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What My Grandma Taught Me

    • 147 posts
    July 10, 2017 12:45 PM EDT

    Memories from over 40 years ago surfaced after a recent interview with Dr. Sandra San Miguel. Whether we are training a staff member or providing a client with instructions on care of their pet ... why don't some people seem to "get it?"

    My Grandma Ruth was not only my best friend, but she also played another very important role in my life. Her influence and the lessons I learned from her are ever present (although she passed away over a decade ago). 

    It was the third grade. A time we were learning multiplication, division, etc. I seemed to have some sort of learning block and could not "get" my "times tables."

    Once a week my 3rd grade teacher would dedicate our math class period to having a competition. Usually 7 or 8 students would be called up to the front of the class and she would announce the math problem to be solved. Each student would have to write the math problem on the chalkboard, and whoever came up with the correct answer first won a prize. These were problems like "9 times 5 equals" or "33 divided by 3 equals," etc. They became more complex over time.

    I'll never forget the day that I was called up to the chalkboard. I still remember having a sense of anxiety when I heard my name announced, but I don't recall the series of 3 or 4 math problems that we were given. I think I got the first one right, but my answers to the next 2 were incorrect. By the final question, I remember feeling helpless ... my mind was blank. I hesitated and didn't write anything down for fear of getting yet another one wrong. I remember my teacher looking at the answers that fellow students had transcribed, and then asking me to write mine. I wrote something down but it was purely a guess. By that time, I'm pretty sure that the combination of performance anxiety, embarrassment, feelings of failure, and now - being the center of negatively charged attention - caused my brain to shut down. I guessed incorrectly.  With that, my teacher told everyone to sit down and to prepare for whatever was to follow.  As students took to their seats, she followed me back to my desk and before I knew it she had both hands on my shoulders and proceeded to shake me repeatedly, muttering - with her teeth clenched - "what's wrong with you?!" "Why can't you get this?" 

    I think this all happened on a Wednesday, and we were to have a math test on Friday. I went home after school with my homework cut out for me. I'd been humiliated and I recall feeling emotionally drained and numb. I asked my mother if she would help me, but my parents had plans for an evening out.  She suggested that I ask my grandmother - who was in town visiting us from afar - to help. I was frustrated and remember doubting that she'd be of much help - but I had no other choice. I explained the situation to my grandma and began showing her my math book and papers. I also had flash cards of sample math problems written on one side, and the correct answer written on the back. 

    We sat down together after dinner. I can't tell you all that happened after that except that I recall the shift in my feelings. Instead of feelings of defeat and inadequacy, I was encouraged and there was some levity. The space around me felt like it was opening up. She was patient. Understanding. She caused a shift in the environment and made it conducive to trying and learning.  I can't tell you that I necessarily came away understanding math principles, but I can tell you that it set me on my way to memorizing my times tables.  I pulled through it, and I credit that to the positive reinforcement and patience she showed, along with the nurturing of a beaten spirit. 

    In reflecting on my life, I recognize that I have had several opportunities to play a similar role for others, that my grandma served for me at that critical time. I haven't always delivered as effectively or patiently for others as my grandma did for me. I can assure you, however, that I have learned something new in each of those situations and continue to evolve and aspire to be like my Grandma Ruth. I'm approaching the same age that she was when she helped me. Hopefully I'll have this down and really be there - in the style of Ruth - when the next opportunity presents.

    I believe there is something for everyone to take away from information that Dr. Sandra San Miguel recently shared about how people learn and why words we speak to others don't always seem to stick.