After reviewing my final grades upon graduating university, my dad handed me a book called, “Bright Child, Poor Grades.”
Samuel Watson Thornton made his point without saying a word. Ouch.
I’ve never been a good student. Not that I haven’t had role models. I’ve been surrounded by siblings and siblings-in-law with PhD’s. Nephews and great nieces who teach and study at some of our nation’s top institutions. Relatives who speak at international conferences and win impressive awards for things scholastic and bright. I have listened in awe at a few of my great nephews (ages 10-13) discuss string theory over a campfire at the Grand Canyon. Why, a nephew of mine even owns a patent on drought-resistant wheat. Smart cookies. Brainiacs. Brightest light bulbs in the box.
And then there’s me. I get a book for graduation that (in essence) says, “Hey kid, why did you screw up in school?”
Dad wasn’t being mean. Not at all. He was telling me, tongue in cheek, that he loved his daughter even though she wasn’t living up to her potential. Sigh. The story of my life.
For me, learning in the classroom has never been easy or interesting or desirable. I daydreamed. Slept. Doodled. Much like I see my 11-year-old doing now.
Over time, I’ve learned I acquire knowledge best when done on my own. When I catch a scent of something interesting and start sniffing out the data.
The late 70’s found me pouring over everything about copywriting. And that became my career. The 80’s was my China period. I read everything I could find on the country, its people, history and politics.
你吃饭了吗 nǐ chīfàn le ma “Have you eaten?”
I learned, for example, that a common greeting among older Chinese is “Have you eaten yet?” Used much like our “How are you?“, the question harks back to the days of food scarcity in China. Just yesterday I read that today, many Chinese are using the greeting, “Have you surfed the Internet today?” High tech wins over hunger. Not in my house.
Spirituality kept my interest during the 90’s and my bookcases swelled with the writings of the early church fathers and mothers, mystics and religious writers of all faiths.
So yes, I have an inquiring mind… but I’m lousy in the classroom.
And honestly, I’ve never really cared about it. Until now.
Here I am at age 64, attempting to learn español. We toted textbooks and Pimsler’s Spanish Lessons on MP3 to South America. But Ana Luisa at Coffee Club Spanish at Plaza Otorongo has lit a fire in me. I love her classroom. Finally, at retirement age, I want to excel.
My dad would be so pleased.
I’m halfway through my third session with her and find I love learning this language with crazy verb tenses more with every passing week. However, my spirit is willing but I’m finding my flesh (er, brain cells) is weak. It’s not so easy to absorb and assimilate new information. My new-found desire to excel is being sorely tested by flabby gray matter.
But try I am. My stack of homemade flash cards grows weekly. I invest a minimum of two hours a day in studying. I attempt to join in the flow of conversation in class. I stumble, fall, go blank, pull my hair and sigh. Ana Luisa smiles and nods and encourages me (as she does each one of us) to practica, practica.
Ana Luisa is one of those teachers who makes students feel comfortable with learning and who don’t mind making a mistake. She’s petite, vivacious, funny and an outstanding speaker of both English and her native tongue.
My chest swells with pride on those occasions she says,”Perfecto, Nancy!” Granted that doesn’t happen often. But it’s often enough to keep me going. Going until I reach my goal of being able to converse with ease and at length with Margarita, our lovely and shy housekeeper.
I measure my progress by how Margarita and I communicate week by week. When we moved in and I first met her, I held my dictionary in hand as I tried to ask her what she’d like for lunch. She looked at me (she’s the same height as Katherine) with total confusion. We’ve since made great strides. Margarita likes helping me with pronunciation using my flash cards. She used to giggle at my mistakes and now she guffaws. We laugh uproariously as we act out the verbs. She nods her head vigorously when we connect. She’s a delight. And I’m as proud as can be. I think she is too.
Progress. I’m making it thanks to two warm-hearted women, hard work and a classroom of ambitious gringos.
Learning is both fun and frustrating. I want to do better in class. In fact, I’d love to be the star. But I’m not. But I am a student who is applying herself and making good strides.
There’s no place I’d rather be than in the classroom with Ana Luisa and at the dining room table with Margarita. These two women are doing a fantastic job teaching an old dog new tricks.
Life is very good. And I think my dad, if he were alive, just might want his book back.