The Math teacher in my last high school year taught me by example the most valuable leasson I later applied to journalism: to humbly listen to everyone's story as if it was the most important thing in the world.
In the first two years of high school my math teacher was the principal’s cousin. She was over 70 years old. Her memory was failing, her speech too. She must have been a good teacher at one point in her life, but the poor woman could not connect with teens anymore, and she was a bit aggressive to some of us.
I never enjoyed math but I was good at it. I barely studied and got straight A’s. But over half my schoolmates were failing.
The third and fourth years we got another math teacher who was very funny, but often shamed or screamed at students who got an answer wrong or could not solve a problem. We were there to learn, but it felt as knowledge was power in that class, and she enjoyed having both.
In the long term, kids were afraid to raise their hand or ask questions; afraid to look dumb. And the result, again, was a lot of people failing. I ended up dedicating time after school to explain math to some of my classmates, even to those that were not close friends.
By the fifth and last year of high school, there was nobody in my class that enjoyed math anymore. However, it was the first year we had Ms. Comelini. She was a breath of fresh air.
She took all the time in the world to explain every new topic over and over again. She had to go back to lessons from the previous years, and this time kids finally understood them!
I could notice the change in the class. Students were asking questions about the simplest things. But even if she had explained something for the third time and someone asked exactly what she had just said, Ms. Comelini took it as if it was the smartest and most important question anyone had ever asked.
Her attitude amazed me. I remember thinking the patience of that woman was out of this world. I admired her desire to get through to people no matter what (and her will power not to get annoyed). Everyone around her felt comfortable and empowered. It was our reward after years of trying to learn from bullies.
By the end of the year, students were showing their appreciation with all sorts of heartfelt gestures. Some thanked her in tears because they never thought they could understand math and pass the class.
The following year, when we took the courses to enter different universities, nobody from that class failed math.
Years after, as a journalist I had to go through many difficult interviews for many reasons. In those cases, I try to remember her humility and patience to listen to everyone’s story as if they were the smartest and most interesting individual in the world. It is the way to bring out the best in people.
She did not know it then, but Ms. Comelini was teaching me to be a journalist too.
(Note: this is a re-write from my contribution to this challenge)
Created: May 09, 2017ShortStory Document Media