School’s out: My year as a tutor

Photo credit: Clemson Libraries/Flickr

Photo credit: Clemson Libraries/Flickr

As the school year comes to a close in the next few weeks, I will be finishing my final sessions with the students I’ve been tutoring since last summer. When I went into this gig, it was to explore the idea of teaching, to see if I wanted to go into education in some capacity, and because I’ve always wanted to try tutoring. I walked into the tutoring and test prep center in my neighborhood and cold applied, acknowledging that I had no teaching experience, no experience working directly with kids, and no experience in special education. But I did have a passion for the English language, and for helping students communicate better and succeed in school and in life.

All these months later, I hope that I’ve made an impact on my students’ work, now and in the future. For some, I know I have – the test scores and the grades prove it. And beyond the grades, I think that I’ve been able to expose these kids to new ideas and concepts, empower them to express themselves more confidently and creatively, and to utilize their resources and surroundings to find solutions, not only for their homework, but for some of the bigger questions and challenges they will face as they grow up.

For me it’s been a test in patience, a challenge to be creative (with curriculum and style), an opportunity to learn about new things, a refresher in some of the basics (hello, functions and graphing), and a chance to nerd out on some of my favorite subjects and topics. Browsing NPR.org and The Atlantic for articles for my ESL student to read wasn’t homework for me – it fit right into my daily routine. Rereading Much Ado About Nothing, or The Bell Jar for the first time, or working through the rhetorical and literary devices in prose and poetry are all up my alley, and while my students may not be over the moon about those assignments, I got to be a little excited and I hope some of that rubbed off on them. And even when I was working through middle school math, I got to explore different learning styles and approaches to fundamentals that I hadn’t touched in 20 years, and it gave me a new appreciation for what it’s like to be the student – it helped me to be a better teacher.

As with any job or extracurricular, there were tough moments, too. You’re dealing with parents, juggling schedules, disinterested kids, and sometimes really tough subject matter. And while I won’t be pursuing a new career in education right now, the frustrating moments of this past year have been as enlightening as the satisfactory ones. I am grateful for the opportunity to have worked with all of them, and I’m glad I took on the challenge for myself. I look forward to continuing it in the future.

Have you worked as a tutor? What have you learned from the experience?

From Laura Ingalls and Alicia Florrick to Elizabeth II: literary and historical women as role models

female literary heroines

The more time I spend reading, writing, volunteering at the library, and exploring what I want to do with my life, the more I’ve learned that what I read and who I read about has influenced who I am and who I want to be. While I love Dickens, Steinbeck, Fitzgerald, and Shakespeare, my heart is with Laura Ingalls Wilder, Louisa May Alcott, Lucy M Montgomery, and Jane Austen. Half Pint (Laura), Jo March, Anne Shirley, and Elizabeth Bennett are some of the strongest, imaginative, passionate, and soulful characters in literature – determining their place and path in life while remaining devoted to family, friends, and love. In history, I nerd out over the family wars and power struggles during the times of Henry VIII and Richard III, but it’s the reformations and revolutions and sea changes that Anne Boleyn, Katherine Woodville, and Elizabeth II brought about despite the opposition that really resonate with me.

Even when I think about the TV shows and movies I enjoy, it comes back to the women. Sure, Mad Men’s Don Draper is a fascinating look at the flawed man, but Peggy, Joan, and young Sally Draper are prime examples of women finding their way in a world dominated by the opposite sex. And while the Earl of Grantham may hold the keys to Downton Abbey, Ladies Cora, Mary, Edith (yes, even Edith!), Sybil, and Rose, and servants Mrs. Hughes, Mrs. Patmore, Daisy, and Anna set the stage for the changing role of women in the first half of the 20th century. On The Good Wife, Alicia Florrick adapts to and then owns her circumstances, making us question what “good” really means. And in Game of Thrones, perhaps the most exciting character development lies with Daenyrus Targaryen, Sansa and Arya Stark, and (begrudgingly) Cersei Lannister.

When I was younger, I may have thought that I just liked that Laura Ingalls got to help her Pa make hay and then go buggy-riding with Almanzo. I may have been jealous of Anne Shirley’s red hair and her smart and witty friend and future husband, Gilbert. But what I think was really going on was that I admired their fiery spirit, their continued desire to learn and explore, and their fierce loyalty to home, family, and self. One of my favorite book series is one that centers on how a young white woman and her (later freed) slave and best friend get through the Civil War and years afterward, both dealing with their own set of obstacles, but both also remaining adamant about who they are and how to fulfill their dreams. Dare I say that these are the very reasons I have had a lifelong love affair with The Sound of Music and The Wizard of Oz? Beyond the singing and the rainbows and ruby slippers, these are also the stories of women and girls who overcome their fears – of the unknown, of the world beyond their doorstep, of those who challenge their beliefs – and take a journey to find their calling, or to find what matters most, even if it is right in their own backyard.

There are many out there that have applauded the arrival of newer young female “heroines” and role models in literature, such as The Hunger Games’ Katniss or Divergent’s Tris. While I support new stories and inspiring characters, we weren’t lacking in the first place. Stories of females fighting back against societal pressures and life’s ups and downs and tragedies is nothing new – all you have to do is pick up the Little House series, The Diary of Anne Frank, or Little Women. A 16-year-old pioneer girl braving her first teaching assignment in the middle of nowhere sounds pretty brave to me. So does the story of a young girl hiding from the Nazis in an attic, and another of a young woman cutting off her hair and secretly writing stories under a pen name to provide for her family.

This is no great epiphany of course. We read what we like, and we read (and watch) what connects to us, intellectually, emotionally, spiritually, and psychologically. And as I continue to determine my next steps and explore who I am beneath the surface, I’ll keep in mind my heroines from the page, screen, and history, that I have loved from the first moment I met them.

Who are your heroines from books, tv or film, or history? Why?

The Other Millennial: Searching Beyond the Stuff

IMG_7272

Yesterday, I read a piece in The Washington Post about a “seismic shift” happening all across America: Boomers are cleaning out their clutter and updating their décor, but their Millennial kids don’t want their stuff. The article goes on to discuss the various element at play, that we have read about again and again in nearly every story about Millennials for the last few years – we want to downsize and take less stuff with us, we capture important moments digitally, and, according to one quoted Millennial, we prefer to “spend money on experiences.” (I read another article this morning on this last point.)

While these things may be true for many Millennials, I find that the article is one-side, as most of these pieces are. What about those of us (me, obviously) who capture our moments digitally, but also do still carry around boxes of cherished items to feed our nostalgia and experiences? What about those of us who spend money on experiences but also spend money on such old-fashioned things like records, stationery, and (gasp!) books? And not to neglect the Boomers – what about parents like mine who don’t have clutter and whose decorative tastes are actually quite appealing?

I emailed the author of the article to express these thoughts. Her response: “Thanks. Interesting idea.” I don’t expect to see the other side of the story anytime soon. According to the article, eight out of 10 Millennials don’t want their parents’ boxes of memories and furniture. And again, while this may be true, it’s also stating the obvious. Just like all of the pieces about Millennials moving back in with their parents focus on the “majority” – those who are in debt, lost their jobs, in school, etc. What about the other side to that coin? What about the Millennials like me who make personal choices to spend more time with family, to explore a new career path, and to get a change of scenery? What about the Millennials who use this time to browse the old photo albums, read the old letters, and bust out the heirloom blankets for the bed?

With each of our collective numerous moves, my parents and I have donated or trashed a lot of stuff—whether it was knickknacks, collectables, furniture, etc. But there’s always that box or two of papers and ribbons and notes and other chachkies that we just can’t let go. And when my grandparents passed away in the 90s, I relished being able to discover their own cherished possessions, some of which became my own. There’s something to be said about these reminders of our past that use all of our senses—the smells, the touch, the colors—they can do a lot more for our memories than rifling through thousands of digital photos on a hard drive.

In an age when what’s old is new again, the real story should be about those Boomer parents and Millennial kids who are connecting over their precious moments from the past and the present, both through physical mementos and digital files. In an age when we shake our heads at the lack of connection between these two generations that are supposedly miles apart in ideology and tastes and behaviors, why not take a closer look and find the families that are bonding over classic Johnny Cash vinyl, taking selfies with a Polaroid, and supporting each others’ hobbies and passions (even if it means creating more “stuff” for the house).

I may be in the minority, but there’s something beneath all of this “stuff.” I think there’s a lot of soul.

Do you have any stories to share about your own experiences of keeping your or your parents’ old “stuff”?

Celebrating one year in San Diego

san diego 1 year collage

This week marks one year since we moved to San Diego, which means I’m edging on two years since I moved to California (Remember that little stint up in Paso Robles? A distant memory for me, too.). In some ways, it seems like I have always been here, and in others, it feels like I just arrived and everything is still fresh and new.

While there are definitely areas of my life that I’m still looking to fill (a few more friends, a partner, a place of my own), when I think about what I have done so far in this past year in my new city, I have to say, I’m pretty darn fortunate – and when it comes down to it, I’m also pretty happy. Having a pity party about not having it all right now can only last so long, and I once again give credit to my parents for helping me to see the light – and for reminding me that for the most part, the only obstacle in my way is myself. To have the flexibility and the freedom that I do, to really try to be true to myself and focus on my writing…well, not everyone has that option. As people say, things don’t happen for you, you have to make them happen for yourself.

But back to what I have done, thanks to this journey I’ve been on. One of the things I love most about living in San Diego is the priority on a balanced lifestyle. While it looks like all people do out here is surf and hike and bike and play with their dogs, I know that there are a lot of hard-working folks out here. But they really walk the talk when it comes to that “work hard, play hard” mantra. People do their jobs, but they also make time for themselves, and for friends and family. It’s just as important to make sure that you get a trail run or kayaking trip in on the weekend as it is to finish that project at the office.

As I continue to find the operational mode that works best for me (while I’m working from home), I’ve been able to have a lot more time for other things that I shied away from committing to when living on the East Coast. I avoided signing up for volunteering, I didn’t join any running or tennis groups, and I didn’t take up any new hobbies. Sure, I went to sporting events, and happy hours, and visited museums, and hung out with friends. But there were so many things I didn’t do that are now feeding my soul, and that I feel are helping me to continue on a road of self-discovery.

Some highlights:

  • I’ve run several races with my mom, and supported her as she became a runner in her own right. Bonus: some new PRs for me along the way.
  • Volunteering at the library has introduced to me to some lovely people, and expanded my literary horizons even further.
  • Tutoring middle school and high school students in English has taught me patience, creativity, and a lot about my own learning style.
  • Helping my parents with various home and garden projects has made me realize how much I love working with my hands, and the sense of productivity it brings. Which brings me to…
  • Teaching myself to knit after first buying a set of needles and yarn several years ago brings me joy from crafting things that others appreciate, and the act of knitting is a calming and fun experience.
  • Participating in activities like trail running, kayaking, SUPing, and getting back to tennis means I can enjoy San Diego’s beautiful outdoors and maintain fitness.
  • Meeting new friends of all ages and backgrounds through my various activities means common threads and a diverse set of relationships –> quality over quantity.
  • Speaking of quality: continued focused time with my family has made us closer than ever, as we all support each other in this phase of life.

Here’s to another great year ahead here at home.

Things I’ve Learned While Volunteering at the Library

bookshelf

I began volunteering at the local library last August. I’m in the circulation department, and once a week for about an hour and a half, I shelf-read and clean books. I also help shelve some paperbacks and organize carts ready to be shelved, things like that. And contrary to belief, it’s not only elderly people who volunteer at the library. There aren’t many of us younger ones, but there are some, including my supervisor, who is my age, and has been working at libraries since high school. I may be one of the youngest volunteers, but being at a library is like another home to me. So getting my library fix once a week and supporting the system? A winning combination for a book lover. (Bonus: I even met a wonderful woman at the orientation who has now become one of my closest friends here in San Diego. We talk about books, knitting, Downton Abbey, and desserts. It’s perfect.)

Shelf-reading basically means making sure the books and other materials are in order on the shelves. You literally go book by book and read the spine label, re-shelving any books (or DVDs or audiobooks, etc.) that are out of place, and aligning them all on the edge of the shelf so it’s pretty and upright. So for instance, in fiction, you follow the spine label by author, then title. In nonfiction, you follow by the Dewey Decimal number, then author, then title. Some sections are nearly always perfect, making for a boring (if not fast) review, while others seem to always be out of sorts (children’s, new fiction, some non-fiction sections).

For most people, volunteering at the library may seem like a very mundane and rather uninteresting activity, but for book lovers, it’s a nice escape to the world we love, and a continual learning experience. Here are a few things I’ve learned from volunteering at the library:

  • Children’s books are filthy. I don’t mean the content. I wear gloves and use a household cleaner and microfiber cloth to clean books. What appears on the cloth after just one cover of a kids’ book is absolutely disgusting. (Note: there are Purel sanitizer stations all throughout the library. This is an important feature.)
  • The children’s books are also always the last to be organized. The volunteers will go through all of the rest of the library each month, shelf-reading anything but children’s, until we have to do it before starting any other section again. Said one volunteer recently, “I don’t do children.” (I wondered after if she meant that specifically for shelf-reading or in a larger life sense.)
  • Mystery and thriller series have all sorts of interesting title themes. I’ve never read mysteries or thrillers, so for a long time I thought that Sue Grafton’s alphabet series was somewhat unique. Or that whole “The Cat Who…” series. But when I started shelf-reading, I realized there is an insane amount of theming that goes on with these titles across the board, some of them kinda cool, and some that are lame. The alphabet thing is quite common, actually (i.e. Capital Killer, Capital Larceny, Capital Murder), and then there’s overplayed themes like baking or holidays (Carrot Cake Murder, Red Velvet Cake Murders).
  • Patrons still rely on old services. When I’m in the circulation room cleaning books or doing other tasks, at least three to four calls come in with a request for renewals or someone wanting to know when their books are due. This is despite a printed receipt system when you check out your books that show when they’re due, and an online renewal system that is quite easy to use. I think it’s an interesting example of how even though libraries are instituting technology to streamline processes, many patrons still prefer traditional methods.
  • People still use libraries to get work done. Or play games on the computer. Believe it or not, people don’t exclusively go to coffee shops now to hog the Wi-Fi and work on their paper (or check Facebook). Even on Tuesday afternoons, the library is full of people getting work done on their laptops at study tables, doing research, and whatever else they need quiet space for. But a fair number of people come to the library to make use of the computers for job searching, playing solitaire, and watching YouTube videos.
  • Library book sales are hard to beat. If your library has an ongoing bookstore and frequent sales, take advantage of it. On any given day, I can buy a newer paperback, a great biography, a classic cookbook, or a fascinating non-fiction book for anything from $1-3. Many of these books are in near perfect condition. Consider donating books you don’t want to your library, and buying from them, too, if that’s an option. Keep the cycle going.
  • You can never run out of new material to read. If you’re open to expanding your literary horizons, the library is a perfect place to try new genres, new authors, and new subjects – all for free.

Have you volunteered or worked at a library? What you have learned from your experience?

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