My favorite teacher is…

Sunday, August 28, 2011

My favorite teacher is…

I know you’re expecting me to say that my English teachers were my favorites—and they were; or that Mrs. Porter was my favorite—and she was; or that Stephen Smith was my favorite—and he was; or that Vicki B. was my favorite—and she was; or that Mrs. Arnold was my favorite—and she still is. I have had several favorite teachers in the course of my life. It is an incredible blessing to have learned so much (not just curriculum) from so many of the teachers I’ve encountered on my life’s journey.

But today, I have to mention someone a little bit off-the-expected-road: Stephan Schoeman.

I don’t really believe in luck. I believe in blessings, and I believe in God ordaining things to come about in our lives, and I believe in His mercies in those split seconds when we realize how close we came to danger. But I think back on my time with Stephan, and even though I believe it was God’s plan for me to study under this great violinist in a rinky-dink place like Houghton (and how did such an extraordinary musician end up in Houghton, anyway?), I still think, “Wow, I was so lucky to be his student!”

Stephan was something of a big deal (though I had no idea back then; at the time, he was just Stephan to me). He was a violinist from South Africa with crazy, crazy hair. When my family moved to the Houghton area in late 1993, I was so disappointed to learn that there was no orchestra in the schools. I’d been playing viola for more than a year at that point, and I was doing well; I loved it. I don’t have a clue what it cost her at the time, but I know it must have been a huge sacrifice. Nonetheless, mom paid for me to take private lessons through Suzuki. And that’s how I met Stephan.

At the time, I was the only viola student in the organization. Stephan loved that, I think. He was an excellent teacher—not just in the basics, but in encouraging me to be strong and confident when I played. But the best thing about Stephan was that he didn’t seem to realize how awful I was in comparison to him. Every time we met for lessons, he played along with me, harmonizing and improvising on his violin (the only violin I’ve ever called “beautiful”).

Michael Card once said, “There are two kinds of geniuses. There are geniuses that you see perform and you tell yourself, ah, I could never do that. They sort of shut down your creativity. Then there are geniuses that you see that draw you in and fire you up to go and be creative and to write songs and to play.”

That’s how I felt about Stephan. Even though his skill far surpassed my own (in such enormous measure that I don’t even know a word that might describe the amount), Stephan engaged me where I was and made me feel like I was capable of playing alongside him.

Mom was telling me yesterday about affirmation. She said that it’s important for us to affirm people—not just to speak kindly to their greatness, but to speak kindly to their mediocrity and imperfections so that they will grow into greatness.

I’m so thankful that Stephan was there to encourage and affirm music in my life, even though I don’t even play the viola anymore. For that, he really was my favorite teacher.


All my love,

Aunt Sarah

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