Musings from kindergarten – time and attention

I have to be very flexible when I’m tutoring. Each child is different. Each child learns at a different pace. Each one finds different things interesting. I have to adapt myself to them.

The way I want to teach isn’t always the way they want to learn. So instead of expecting them to conform to where I’m coming from, I get down to where they are. I’m here for them, not myself. I already know my letters. They are the ones who have to do the work. I’m there to cheer them on when they get it right.

Of course, sometimes they aren’t really interested in learning at all and they really want to play. Sometimes it is hard to tell. Learning looks a lot like playing sometimes. But when it looks a lot more like playing than learning it is time to redirect. Sometimes I’ll say, “Do you want to work on this, or do you want to go back to class?” I’m happy either way. If they aren’t ready to work, there are three more after them who are.

It is interesting the number of kids who say “pick me!” They want to work. Getting to work with a tutor isn’t seen as a negative thing. This is excellent. There is no stigma. The kids who I work with aren’t seen as being a little slower, or having a harder time getting concepts. It is a treat, a favor, to work with me. This makes my job easier, but also harder. I’d love to work with them all but I only have an hour a week. There isn’t much quality time available so I have to have a list of who needs me.

I don’t pick the children I tutor. I get a list from the teacher, in order of need. I start at the top and go as far as I can. Sometimes the list has five children on it, and I only get to the first two. That is OK. Those two needed more attention that day and were willing to work. If I can get them in that frame of mind, I’m running with it.

One day I worked with the same child for three quarters of the hour. That was a big deal. Oscar was from Mexico, and it took half the year for him to even answer me back in English. Actually, I don’t even think he was answering me in Spanish most of the time. I think Oscar was speaking Oscar. He was very enthusiastic about it, but he didn’t make any sense. I have a feeling that his parents thought that he was speaking English but they didn’t know English so they didn’t know any better.

That day I was reading a book to him, and I was using every trick I had. How many ornaments are there on the tree? Where is the yellow box? It may sound silly, but there is a lot more to reading a book than just the words. I wanted to fully engage him.

Mostly, I wanted him to hear English. If you are going to live here, you have to know English to get by. Being able to read and write is certainly nice, but if you can’t understand and speak it, you are in a world of hurt.

By the end of the year, Oscar still wasn’t doing very well with writing and reading. He would cover up the words on the page and look at the pictures. I’m not sure that he understood that I wasn’t just making up the story. I’m not sure that he didn’t get that those words weren’t just squiggles. He at least was responding to my questions in English. Mission accomplished. It wasn’t much, but it is a start.

Sometimes the teacher will assign a child to me who is doing very well. We’ll go through the lesson that we’ve been assigned, and she will do fabulously. I’ll ask the teacher why I was assigned this student. Often it is simply that the child needed a little attention and time. Sometimes it is because Mom is not at home – she is still back in their home country. Or Dad has been deported. Sometimes it has nothing to do with learning letters and numbers, but everything to do with personal attention.

It is amazing how simple it is to offer a little bit of time, and how much good it does.

Muslim headcoverings, and Christian guilt.

I always feel self conscious around Muslim girls who wear headscarves. Am I seen as not modest to them? Am I seen as not religious enough? Or am I once again making up stories about what people think?

When I go to the pool at the Y I sometimes see Muslim moms watching their children swim. The average American swimsuit attire goes way past the Muslim idea of modesty. Everything shows, and what isn’t covered up leaves nothing to the imagination because it is skin tight. These moms sit on the sidelines while their young daughters play in the pool. At a certain age the daughters will be equally swathed in fabric, but not yet. The moms can’t get in the pool in standard swimsuits and still be observant with their faith.

I think it is unfair that these moms have to sit on the sidelines because they can’t get in the pool. I’ve found out that there are companies that sell “modest” swimsuits. They look a little like the swimsuits you would see in a photograph from the turn of the century. Everything is covered from head to toe, especially the head. The material is a little thicker and loose so it doesn’t show curves. They can be bought online, but they aren’t cheap.

I’ve told some of the moms about this. I’m a big proponent of people staying healthy through exercise. I also am a big proponent of parents modeling good behavior for their children. If the child sees mom exercising as well, she will learn that exercise is for everyone, not just kids.

But I still feel weird. I’m standing there telling this woman who has something like 12 yards of fabric on her about modest swimsuits so she can swim too, and I’m wearing almost nothing. And I have tattoos. Lots of tattoos. There is no hiding tattoos while in swimsuit.

This is when I’m the most self conscious. But I’m also self conscious at work. We have a lot of Muslim families who use our library. Many are from Somalia and the women wear amazingly beautiful coverings. The fabric is patterned and bright, and sometimes has sparkly bits sewn into it. If I had to wear a hardcover, I’d want to do it the Somali way. But I still feel under dressed and not quite acceptable.

My faith doesn’t require that I cover myself. Modesty is part of being observant as a Christian in some denominations, but the definition is rather open to debate. Sometimes it means that women can’t wear pants, or short skirts. Rarely does it mean that women cover their heads, but sometimes it does. I wonder why all these modesty rules have to do with women being modest and not men, but that is a topic for another day.

But maybe my problem is that I think I’m not being observant enough. Maybe I think that when I see these women who are wearing fabric all over, in the heat, all day long, I think that maybe I’m not doing it right. Maybe I’m not suffering enough. Maybe I’m not being a good witness for my faith.

Maybe that is just old-fashioned Christian guilt rearing its ugly head.

Kindergarten 8-28-13

Kindergarten is hard work. There are so many expectations, so fast. I heard today that every child is going to be tested on the alphabet by the end of the week. There are a few who just won’t get it. School has only been in for three weeks. They are five. They can’t get it this fast. Sometimes things take a while.

So many kids don’t have help at home. This is regardless of whether their parents speak English or not. For some, school is all the time. Some parents know that just like with plants in the garden, children need a lot of nurturing. You can’t just plop little Susie down in front of an “educational” video and think that you’ve done your part.

There was a little girl last year who was from the Congo. She was here with just her Dad. At the beginning of the school year she could speak only French and didn’t know the alphabet. At the end of the year she was reading “Go Dog Go” to me.

The difference? Her Dad made regular trips to the library and got books for her. He read to her. He encouraged her. He worked hard to teach her outside of school, and it showed.

There was a boy last year who was from Ethiopia. Have you ever seen the Ethiopian alphabet? It looks nothing like the English alphabet. It is all squiggles and dots. I think it is beautiful, but confusing. I think that if I was raised with it I’d have a hard time helping my child with schoolwork. His parents learned fast, and taught him. He flew through class. I rarely had to tutor him, which is a shame because he was a delight.

The most interesting thing is that I ended up tutoring the English-speaking children as much as the non-English speaking ones.

I have a theory that native English speakers take school for granted. I think that they don’t get how hard it is to learn the alphabet, to read, to count. These are essential skills and they are the building blocks for everything else. If you can read and count, you can do anything. If you can’t, you are in big trouble.

If you were raised in America, you might not appreciate what a blessing it is to have free, mandatory public education. Plenty of people knock our educational system, but it is a far sight better than in many countries. Sure, our system could use improvement, but the biggest thing we can do for the future is to work on education at home.

Don’t wait for the school to teach your child something, do it yourself. School doesn’t stop at 3 p.m. Take all the energy and focus of homeschooling and add it to public school. Don’t wait for legislation to improve the schools. Go to the library and get books. Make sure your child is filled up with facts and information.

Every foreign parent I see at the library gets non-fiction books for their children. Almost every American parent lets their kids get picture books and comic books. The difference is dramatic. You get out what you put in. The foreign kids are shaped and molded. The American kids are allowed to grow up like weeds.

If we really want to “be number one,” we need to start acting like it.

It’s always the quiet ones…

There is a lady at my workplace who seems really antisocial. Maybe she is just shy. She stutters a little, so maybe she is afraid to talk.

I know very little about her, even though I have worked with her for 13 years. She likes football. I’ve heard she used to be a nurse. She has never been married. This isn’t much for all these years of working together.

I used to say hello to her when I saw her in the morning. If she replied at all it was a grunt. More often she would turn her eyes away from me and not even look at me. She would never initiate a “hello” or a “good morning.” This isn’t personal. She does this to everyone. She does this to her boss. Fortunately her job does not require interacting with the public.

I started to think about this. Maybe she doesn’t like to say good morning. Perhaps I am expecting too much. So I thought about it more. Perhaps she doesn’t see the value of social pleasantries.

It sure makes things awkward.

When she does talk it is to complain. She will suddenly speak up and say “I don’t mean to complain, but…” and then will launch into a complaint. This is the most common phrase I’ve heard from her. This isn’t a great thing to be known for – complaining, and not being friendly. Kinda makes me think about the stories in the news, you know, the ones where they say the killer was quiet and kept to himself.

Maybe she has a learning disability, and interacting with people is hard. Maybe she is embarrassed of her stutter and has decided it is easier to not talk at all. Maybe I’m making up a story so that I feel better.

I want to have a better relationship with her, but then again, I don’t want to. Sometimes I think I don’t want to go to the effort of making it work. It takes two to make a relationship after all.

Then I think maybe I’m trying to make her into my own image. I’m expecting her to be like me. I’m not letting her be her. Maybe being quiet and aloof is how she wants to be and I need to adapt to it.

Apparently I already have. I’ve not pushed it. It has been many years.

It still feels weird.

Training, pension plans, government jobs – musings from the library.

I’ve realized that I can’t stand training new people at work anymore. There have been so many of them it is hard to care. It is hard to form an attachment. How long will they stay? Are they going to be gone in a year, having found a job that pays more? Are they just a temp and will work at another branch?

It is hard, having new people there. They are in my way. They are underfoot. I’ve been there since the beginning. That is thirteen years of being in the same place. We have a certain routine, a lot of which I formed. There are certain ways that things get done. There are certain places where things go. I get a little bent out of shape when I can’t find something, or something isn’t restocked, or something isn’t completed.

I’m thinking I have a bit of Aspergers’. Or maybe this is just being old and being set in my ways.

I’ve tried to really invest a lot of energy into new people for all these years. I want them to do well. I want them to learn all the tricks. But then I remember that nobody told me all these tricks. I had to learn them the hard way. I had to figure it out and struggle through and then mess up and get yelled at by either the patron or the branch manager or both. I wonder why I’m trying to save these new people from all this when nobody tried to save me from it.

Maybe this is selfish of me. Maybe I should want to save them from a lot of trouble, even though nobody saved me. Maybe I’m really trying to make myself feel better by thinking I’m useful to them, or I’m trying to establish myself as an authority figure they can go to when they need help.

Or maybe I am a curmudgeon.

Or maybe I’ve spent just enough time working for a government agency that I realize that even if I give my job my all, that I won’t get paid more and I won’t get promoted and I won’t get noticed. There is something about working for the government that promotes mediocrity. The worst employee, who is just doing the minimum, and the best employee who is really inventive and creative and enthusiastic are the same in the eyes of the job. They both get paid the same. They both get the same benefits. It is kind of disheartening.

And then I think that part of my issue isn’t new employees at all. It is the fact that I dislike spending all my waking time at work. All of my healthy, productive years are given to a job. I’ll be 60 before I’ll be allowed to retire with a pension. While I’m grateful for a job that uses my skills and has a pension plan, I also resent the fact that the job gets more of my useful years than I do.

This is why I shoehorn in my writing time. I write before work, at lunch, and any other time I have a spare moment. I write in doctor’s waiting rooms. I write while waiting for my car to be serviced. I write while my husband is driving us on vacation or to go out to eat. I write all the time.

This is also why I exercise. I want to be healthy enough to enjoy my retirement when I finally get it. My parents died before they could retire. I’m very aware of how short life is.

Ideally, I’d work part time, or at most 30 hours a week, but the pension plan won’t cover either of those options. So I’m trying to fold time a little to get some living in there in the meantime. Because you never know if you will make it to retirement. You might get cancer. You might get hit by a bus. You might get stuck in a tornado. Things happen.

In the meantime, I keep having to train new people. Why have I stayed here this long? So many others have left. It doesn’t pay much. There is no real path for promotion. But if you are a people watcher, this is the best job ever. People come right up to you – you don’t have to make up stories about them. Every part of the drama of human existence happens at the library. Sometimes it is explained in books. Sometimes it is lived out in patrons or coworkers. There is a lot to learn in a library.

Honestly, I’m not sure I could do much else. I have a degree in English, but my training is in retail. Working in the library is a lot like retail. It has a better image than retail, sure, but the process is the same. And I feel really tied to the idea of health insurance and a pension and vacation and sick time. I’ve built up quite a bit of time. If I started at somewhere else, I’d start at the bottom.

And I’d be the new person, in the way, having to be trained.