The Piano Lessons
“One of the nicest things about retirement is that the adult can now face the obstacles that challenged her as a child,” says retired New Jersey teacher turned Floridian Theresa Pisano. For her, that obstacle was music lessons. She always loved classical music, but as a child was told she had “no feel” for the piano.
After she retired in 2000 from a 31-year career teaching first and second grades, as well as seventh- and eighth-grade math and science classes in New Jersey schools, Pisano decided to try piano lessons again. “I planned on only taking them for a month to see if I remembered anything, and to see if my adult analytical skills would serve me well,” she says.
Pisano says her teacher is demanding, but it’s rewarding to earn a compliment. She is proud to be able to play many pieces effortlessly, and she believes that studying piano has improved her memory and helped her to focus and spot patterns. “Learning music keeps my brain cells ‘synapsing,’ ” she jokes.
Now in her third year of studying piano, Pisano has graduated to playing Chopin and Mozart. She laughs when she recalls her first recital, and says she was “surrounded by six- and eight-year-olds. . . . I asked if there would be other adult students, and my instructor told me, ‘Of course!’ There weren’t, and I felt so silly!”
But that initial setback didn’t stop her. Pisano encourages fellow retirees to pick up an instrument, study a foreign language, or learn about technology to keep their minds sharp. Along with mastering the piano, Pisano is studying Italian (she’s fairly fluent, she reports), and is learning to use electronics more. She intends to continue her music studies, and is looking forward to her next recital in June. “When my piano playing makes someone happy, then it’s all worth it.
Dedication to the (Navajo) Nation
When Arizona educator Daniel Barlow started his teaching career at age 21, he found himself in a rather unusual situation—his students were members of the Navajo nation in Ganado and Chinle, Arizona. Barlow was faced with major cultural and language barriers with almost all of the students speaking in their native Navajo tongue at the time, now almost 40 years ago.
Not bowing to the challenge, Barlow says, “I focused on hands-on and visual lessons with repetition for multi-cultural students. I had to adapt my lessons so the students could understand what I was teaching them.”
Barlow expresses gratitude to his former teachers and colleagues for teaching him different methods for instructing students from other cultures, and he credits those same colleagues for his success. Barlow credits his wife, Sylvia Barlow (also an educator), as another positive influence on his teaching. Together, they were the 2007 recipients of the Arizona Education Association Christa McAuliffe “I Touch the Future, I Teach” Award, making them the first couple to receive it.
However, Barlow faced challenges in his teaching career that required him to adapt his teaching methods as Navajo youth embraced mainstream media and got involved with gangs.
“The percentage of students who spoke Navajo dropped from 99 percent to only 20–25 percent over my teaching career, and student involvement in gangs rose. It’s sad that the media made that change in the students.”
Even with the changes, Barlow continued to educate the Navajo youth because of his commitment to the well-being of the Navajo people. Now retired, he continues to give back to the nation by helping young teachers with lesson plans and teaching evening classes at a local college. He also serves on the NEA-retired board that is starting a new chapter near the reservation.
Barlow aims to continue his work in teaching and learning. “I never will be ready to leave education,” he says. “Education still needs our expertise and we need to stay active in it.”