Monday, October 06, 2008

The Mother's (or Teacher's) Curse

There’s something called The Mother’s Curse, which goes like this, “When you grow up, I hope you get children just like you!” This is typically said by a mother when a child is having a temper tantrum in the grocery store.

I don’t think my mom cursed me. I don’t remember ever hearing those words. In fact, I think I’ve been very blessed in terms of my children. Of course, I may find out about things later in life as my parents are finding out about now - at times when their adult children sit around and reminisce!

No, it wasn’t my mom.

I think it was my piano teacher who cursed me.

I love to play pieces on the piano that I know well and that sound beautiful, but I hated practicing. This is really sad to be admitting as a math teacher, but I particularly resisted learning to count. Oh, I know how – I know HOW to count in music (one-ee-and-a-two-ee-and-a-three-ee-and-a . . .). I just never did it. I would ask my teacher to play the new piece for me before I went home so I could hear it. I had a very good ear, and I would piece together the notes I saw with what I’d heard, and I’d basically play by ear.

That made life easy.

That also crippled me.

Now I would like to play the piano really well, and I can play, but I sound just like I did in junior high, and I am limited in that I can only play songs that I’ve heard before and can play partly by ear. (I do plan to rectify this soon and begin lessons again and break my bad habits, which is going to be harder than it would have been to put in the work and do it right the first time around!)

OK, here’s where I lose all my readers, I fear.

TODAY AS I WAS TEACHING MATH . . .

(Anybody still with me?)

I was trying with all my heart, soul and guts to impress upon my students how important it is to learn the MEANING rather than a random assortment of rules. Some (though not all) want to say to me, “Just give me the steps; just show me how (and leave me alone).”

We are working with adding and subtracting positive and negative numbers. As I’ve walked around the class over the last few days checking their work, I see that some of them know just enough to be dangerous (kind of like me on the piano). They’ve learned a random assortment of steps but not what they mean or when to apply them.

I am there ready, willing AND ABLE to make sense of this WITH them. I’m basically doing gymnastics and turning myself inside out in front of the class to explain WHY, but I can see in their eyes and body language that they (SOME - not all! - of them) just want to be left alone to stumble through with what they’ve got - hoping that a random guess, like a roll of the die, is going to miraculously be correct (and possibly fearing that digging deeper will make it more confusing instead of less - I understand that).

I DO understand that math is something that many people fear more than public speaking, snakes or death. I DO understand the aversion. I just wish I could have gotten them sooner before they got enough tricks to feel they can (should?) tune out now and hang onto the patchwork they've got and be OK.

The thing is, this is college, and they are in my class because they have a goal, whether it is graduation, transfer, a specific vocation . . . by their own choice of direction in life at this point they HAVE TO get through not only this class but 2 or 3 succeeding math classes that all BUILD on THIS material before they can get to their goal, and I want to help them reach those goals! BUT I can't want it FOR them and make it happen any more than my parents could want piano skills FOR me and make it happen.

Today I shared with them my story of piano lessons (and 2 other similar stories). I'm not a teacher who tells personal stories in class, so this was WAY out the ordinary. I shared that learning STEPS is easy, but steps are just as easy to forget as they are to learn. Learning meaning is hard, but once you have it, it stays with you, and you can even apply it to new concepts you hadn’t seen before (just like I would be able to play piano pieces I’d never heard before if I’d taken the right route instead of the easy route as a piano student).

So, now I'm the "adult" saying, "PLEASE believe me. I know what is in front of you." As you can imagine, this is going over as well with SOME of my students now as it did with me 30+ years ago to be told that if I quit taking piano I would regret it later. (I do). I didn’t believe the adults then; what child does?! SOME of my adult students don’t believe me now either – but SOME do. Kudos to them‼ They are going to make it!

(The first time!!)

And now back to me and fixing the error of MY ways:

"One-ee-and-a-two-ee-and-a-"

1 comment:

nethe said...

Strangest thing! Your words on piano and playing are like hearing myself explain. Funny, that you should be “singing my song” like that!
I too would ask my piano teacher to play a few songs so as to decide which one I wanted to learn. -but then hearing it meant I had partly learned it already!
She was a good teacher actually, trying hard to give me the MEANING. With colours; with stickers; with encouragement. Why this and this note goes together and so on.
If she had only figured out that I had a good "inner ear" at the beginning, she might have been able to "dislocated it" somehow. As it was, after 2 years she finally "caught me" playing by ear (when I began playing longer melodies that required turning pages), and then it was too late. I got too hard to learn the right way after years of doing it wrong but getting it right every time… Sometimes being naturally a little good at something means you are hindered in getting really good at it… does it make sense?

As you, I do plan to get better at reading sheet music. I have bought books on “sheet music reading – for adults” and stuff. I have resolved to use at least 10 minutes every day at the piano. But I get sooooo frustrated. I get so disgusted with the wrong sounds a reading mistake produces. It is much more painful than any other mistakes I make when learning anything new. Because I already KNOW how it SHOULD sound! I might never conquer my learning disability, I fear.
But if you make progress please tell us here at your blog! Good luck! :-)