Are you ever faced with an impossibly long teaching day and don’t know how you will get through it? Well, don’t despair; this happens to most if not all of us, I suspect. The other day a young violin teacher called me with exactly this problem. She asked me to say something, ANYTHING, that could help her. So I told her one of my favorite stories (number 55) that I also tell my students when needed. It goes like this:
My mother gave birth to me when she was very young and, being a spoiled only child, completely inexperienced. So the two grandmothers wisely decided to get a nurse to come and help my mother for a week when we came home from the hospital. At the end of that week, my mother tried to change my diaper by herself. Those were the days of bulky cloth diapers and unwieldy (and potentially lethal) diaper pins. She just couldn’t get it right, got very upset, then started thinking about how many diapers she was going to have to change before I could manage things on my own and got hysterical. My father had to put her to bed and the nurse called the grandmothers to tell them she thought it would be a good idea if she were to stay another week. What happened? My mother did learn to change diapers and went on to have four more babies without ever batting an eye again at diapers, glass bottles, rubber nipples (you had to sterilize them back then after every use) and other technical problems of baby management.
The fact that my mother continued to have babies meant either she wasn’t too bright* or that she had learned something important from this diaper changing episode: you take one diaper at a time. Well, we teachers don’t change diapers but we do change students every so many minutes and, as I told my young friend, we should take one student at a time and must certainly never think about how many lessons we have to give before the end of the day, not to mention how many we have to give before we can take a vacation. There are three reasons for this: Continue reading
Sometimes I have students who don’t want to reason. In fact, some of them can be outright resistant to even trying; I may ask a simple question which requires a small amount of reasoning and I see them go to their default mode: “memory.” But then when they don’t find the answer there, mild panic ensues and the next thought is, “I don’t know this and I can’t do it,” at which point everything shuts down. This is such an ingrained chain reaction that I doubt it ever occurs to them that they are shooting themselves in the foot.
Until, of course, I point it out to them.
But why does this happen in the first place? At first I thought it was how they were being taught in school, that it was some sort of cultural issue or even that their parents were discouraging them in some way (always easy to blame the parents!). While I am not convinced that the school systems where I live teach children to see patterns and to think logically – much is based on memory here – I am reasonably sure that the parents have nothing to do with it. And neither do self-esteem issues in most of these cases.
The problem, I have found, is lazy brain.
Now before you think I am passing judgement on these kids, know that research says that our brains consume up to 25% of our caloric intake and 20% of the oxygen we breathe – and this high octane organ weighs only 1.4 kilos (three pounds). It’s like having a Ferrari for a brain and a Fiat 500 for the rest of you. In order to make sure we have enough fuel for the rest of our bodily functions, the brain saves energy the best way it can by doing what is easy: “less is more.” So somewhere along the line of their general education these students have encountered things they found difficult and then repeatedly took the easy way out. Their initial lazy brain response of, “Why bother?” has become the habitual reaction of, “I can’t do it.” And what are habits for? Saving energy. It’s just plain easier to think you can’t do something so you don’t have to waste energy trying.*
So, what’s a teacher to do? Continue reading