Friday, June 11, 2010

My Greatest Learning Experience as an Educator

A number of years back, I was assigned a piano student as a freshman in the college - not unusual, of course, as that is a normal aspect of the teaching experience.
However, I quickly discovered that Claude (the name I will assign him in this blog) was not only the student assigned me, but also that he was legally blind.
Upon learning about Claude's situation, I immediately went to the Director in a mild panic, pointing out that I have had no training germane to a situation such as this. He patted me on the shoulder, assuring me that "knowing you, I'm confident that you will prevail. I chose you as the only teacher in the keyboard department whom I feel assured about in this matter."
Frankly, I felt that the Director's praise of my "abilities in this matter" amounted to his choosing me, probably because the other keyboard teachers would have refused outright. But to this day, this can still be construed as only speculation on my part, at best.
Well, for the next four years, I was beset by the question of how to prepare this fellow for his senior recital - it seemed, at first, overwhelming to me, and I became rather forlorn, and not without fear that I may very well fail.
And so, I along with Claude, underwent learning processes that ran parallel with student and teacher; namely, he would learn the repertoire needed to graduate, and I would have to determine the procedures that would best enhance his (and my!) chances for survival, let alone success.
I still have images in my mind of Claude, literally placing manuscript right on the tip of his nose and memorizing by the millimeter each and every piece he had to learn, as he could not read as you and I do; or, memorizing his material by Braille. Do be reminded that Claude could read, but at a snail's pace, as whatever sight he had was really minimal.
My primary task was to balance the amount of learning by tip-of-the-nose reading, and memorizing with the Braille, depending upon the the kind of music he was learning at the time.
For the four years Claude and I were together, I can assure you that both he and I were in true tandem as regards learning what we both needed to learn, in order for the seemingly impossible to come into being.
The Impossible DID occur on the day of his senior recital, when Claude performed a full blown recital, lasting around an hour, with the crowning achievement being, at least for me, piano works of Ginasteras, whom he loved playing. The audience, upon his completion of the final piece, got to its feet (mostly his fellow student-friends, of course), with various faculty members as well, and cheered him in a manner I will always remember.
This turned out to be one of my proudest moments as an educator - Claude was absolutely unflagging in his quest to do what he felt he must do, as I was unflagging in my fear of the Unknown. Claude received his degree , returned to his native Canada, and I continued to hear from him for a considerable length of time; years, as I recall.
Talk about a learning experience! And NOT for the student!

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