At IMSA, students are exposed to a variety of teaching styles. In some way or another, though, they’re all geared to spark some sort of interest in the student. Teachers have found a variety of ways to go about this—some lead lessons through a series of questions, while some have special worksheets for students to work through. Either way, IMSA’s teaching style is aimed towards igniting and nurturing the passions of students and sending them off into the real world with a hunger for learning.
Because IMSA is a STEM school, almost all of the aforementioned teachers encounter are in math and science, but there are teachers of a similar style in other disciplines as well. Although this person isn’t in the IMSA community, she is inarguably one of the best teachers one could ever meet.
Nina Gordon, professor of cello at Illinois Wesleyan University, has been my cello teacher for about four years now. Every hour I get with her is a treasure. A typical lesson will consist of the two of us sitting down, looking at the music together. Occasionally, she will ask to borrow my cello and demonstrate a certain technique for me, but never asserts herself as a superior. Instead, she is more of a guide, leading me through a piece and clapping when I need help on rhythm. The most fascinating part of our lessons, though, is when I receive a new piece and she takes me through it for the first time.
Taking a pencil, Nina scribbles numbers all over the sheet music, indicating what fingers to use and when to move the bow. Between short bouts of writing, she picks up my cello and plays a measure or two, and a piece she hadn’t played for years instantly revives itself in her hands. She flawlessly plays the piece before me, along with the exact combination of bowings and finger placements from her time as a student. Every so often, she even tells a story of when she performed the piece for others. And although she’s just about mastered the instrument, she practices every day. To her, learning is never finished.
I know I will never be a professional, performing for crowds of people. I don’t have it in me. But she makes me love music by showing me how fascinating it can be. Each note can be played differently, according to a person’s individual interpretation and style. By pointing out all the possibilities, Nina shows me that music truly is an art. Although I won’t be going into the music field, she has given me a particular fascination with the subject that I can apply when learning about other subjects.
All teachers should strive to inspire in a similar way. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned from Nina, it’s this: be a student forever.