Thursday, February 4, 2010

A Good Student

Although in a way most of my training in music has been towards performance, I increasingly see myself as a teacher more than anything—of music, but recently also of languages, especially Latin. As a teacher (I teach both one-on-one and in small groups) one has all kinds of students. But I'd say that pretty much all of them, though quite different, are a lot of fun to work with. Still, some students are inevitably easier to work with, some are more ready to take on what I have to tell them, some perhaps trust me more than others. I suppose other teachers have the same experience (but I may be wrong).

Just now, I got an email from, OK, a really Good Student. I know as you're reading this, you can't see the tongue in my cheek and the smile on my face. All students are "good" students, as far as I'm concerned, but today, I feel particularly proud of this one, so I wanted to write about what happened.

This student is in my Biblical Greek class. We met last night, and had lots of fun, partly because we tried to speak quite a bit in the language. Then, for some reason, in the course of the class, she mentioned that she had been a language major in college. German. She was going to be a German teacher, but for some reason, that didn't work so well for her. (She thinks she is not a good teacher, though I'm quite sure the opposite is the case.) I asked her if she reads any German at all these days, just for pleasure. Nope, she hasn't done anything with the language for 45 years. (She must have graduated from college at 7 or 8, I suppose.)

I asked her what she had read in German back then. Goethe. Thomas Mann. Any Hesse, I asked. No. Oh my goodness, I say. You have to read Siddhartha, I'll lend you my copy. She protests that, really, her German is very rusty, and that she can't find her dictionary, and, and, and. But I give her the book and tell her to read the first chapter for homework. Of course, I'm kidding. But, I suppose, I'm also not. And, as much as she protested, she took the book home.

That was last night. Today, at lunchtime, I got this email from her. "Sorry J-P, but I read the first chapter—and you're not going to get the book back till I've finished it." She loved it so much, she wrote, that she had to read part of it aloud. My co-workers, she wrote smilingly, must think I'm crazy.

Of course, now I want to have the book back right away, because this makes me want to read it again myself!

But isn't that fantastic? I so often make these suggestions to students. Why don't you try this piece. Take a look at this or that composer. Have you read this or that book. It's not that these students are lazy, nasty, or even naughty. But so often, it just doesn't happen. (No time, of course, is the standard excuse—usually followed by a few "really's.")

But this time it did happen. I just know that she's going to finish Siddhartha next week or so, and with a bit of luck, I'll get her to read Narziss und Goldmund after that... It's so obvious to me that she loves German and German literature. She just needed this tiny little push. A Pushlein, as we say in German...

I'm so proud of her. What a Good Student!

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