Saturday, October 13, 2012

Don't Lose Hope; Follow Your Passions

Sometimes we are motivated by the most unlikely events or people.  Other times we have such a strong intrinsic motivation that outside forces do not easily dissuade us.

This week Sir John Gurdon won the Nobel prize in physiology or medicine with Shinya Yamanaka for their work as pioneers in stem cell research.  Mr. Gurdon was not encouraged by his teachers to be a scientist.  On the contrary, his dreams were dismissed as "ridiculous."

 Gurdon school report, aged 15

"I believe Gurdon has ideas about becoming a scientist; on his present showing this is quite ridiculous; if he can't learn simple biological facts he would have no chance of doing the work of a specialist, and it would be a sheer waste of time, both on his part and of those who would have to teach him."

View this Sir John Gurdon video.

This story brings to mind my experience with a Spanish professor in college.  I was a Spanish major, and loved speaking Spanish in high school, but had very little success in Dr. Lopez's class.  I was nowhere near ready to discuss literary criticism of the works of Federico García Lorca or Don Quijote.  I decided to take a semester in Bogotá, Colombia to immerse myself in the language and culture.  When I asked Dr. Lopez for a letter of recommendation, he laughed at me. "Susan, you will never learn Spanish."  Rather than be dissuaded by his lack of confidence, I knew I had to prove him wrong.  And I did.  Upon returning to the U.S. after my semester abroad, I approached my old professor and showed him how my Spanish had improved, no thanks to him.

As a patient, I continue to reject the prognosis of my podiatrist.  She examined my sore and swollen feet, and she told me there was no way to prevent the onset of hammertoes.  She asserted that my toes would eventually curl up permanently, my foot pad would move forward and stop protecting the ball of my foot, and I would eventually need surgery.  I am proving her wrong.  My foot strength and flexibility continue to improve through "barefoot walking."  My vibrams continue to be my shoes of choice for walking, hiking, even for work.

As a teacher, this story reminds me to encourage my students in their passions, and to withhold judgement about their future abilities.  For goodness sake, my kids are only 9 and 10 years old.  Their brains and bodies are developing at an astounding rate.  Each one develops his or her academic and social skills at a different rate.  A student may not be successful in a certain area this year, but later may jump ahead of the pack.  Why dissuade them from following their passions?  What I want to do is feed their dreams, encourage their growth, and push them on to higher heights.

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