A Beginner Doesn’t Need…a Good Teacher

In ninth-grade English one day, we were going around the room reading aloud, and I suddenly realized that, with just two exceptions, every good reader in the class had gone to the elementary school I’d attended. More than that, we’d all had the same first-grade teacher. I was impressed that the difference she made was still obvious eight years later!

There was something else unusual about her, as I learned when she wrestled one day with the “opaque projector.” This device let her project a page of a book for the whole class to see; but I noticed it needed three hands to operate: one hand to pull down the spring-loaded tray that held the book up against the optics; and two hands to work the book into the right position in the tray.

I volunteered that a strap could be made to hang down from the tray-handle, with a wooden pedal at the floor; and thus she could use her foot to pull down the tray. The unusual part of this story was her response, which was to ask the custodian to make this device, which he promptly did; and then to use it and thank me for inventing it. We can all imagine—or rather, we don’t need to imagine—what a typical adult response might have been: some version of “Get lost, kid.” But she, by contrast, contributed something wonderful to my education. I’m still grateful more than half a century later.

So here was this most unusual teacher, conveying the crucial skill of reading to everyone, and at the same time welcoming an individual student’s creative idea. Whenever I hear parents of piano students say, “He’s only a beginner, so he doesn’t need a good teacher,” I think of my first-grade teacher, Sarah Steinem.

Copyright © James Boyk 2013. All rights reserved.
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