Tutoring pictures

I’ve tutored ESL and special-needs kindergarteners for about five years.  When I first started, I wondered how I would do it.  Thankfully, the teacher has a lot of tools to use.  They seem like games to the kids, but in the meantime they learn their letters and then how to put them together to make words.

Here is an example.  Here is a brown paper bag with small toys inside.

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In this case, a pig, a bat, and an egg.

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There are cards with a picture of each image and the letters that spell it out.  The child then finds the letters that match and puts them on top of the ones on the card.  This way they associate these letters with that item.  This is a good time to notice if a child has dyslexia, as b, p, d, and q are all very similar.  I notice if they reverse the letters and report it to the teacher so she can refer them for extra help.

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Here are some other things we play with to teach children how to read and write.

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The teacher gives me a list of what children I need to work with, as well as what tools to use with them.

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I like that there are different sized chairs for us to use.  Everybody needs a chair that fits them.

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The entire school collected bottle caps throughout the year and did various things with them – counted, sorted by color, and made art projects.  It was a free way to get items that could be used to teach in various ways. Here is a snowman that was created with caps.

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Here are some outside scenes.  The HVAC unit is impressive.

I’m not sure what this is but I like the patina and the graffiti.

 

The brick walls have interesting textures.

A radiator?

Mud and straw from a hiking boot on a rainy day.

And finally, a picture of one year’s class.  They had made “glasses” to wear.

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Menopause and art

Menopause is a time of shifts and changes. It is a time where you are no longer physically able to be creative. And by creative, I mean procreative – you are no longer able to produce a baby. But the energy and desire to create is still part of being human, and still needs to be used. It just needs a different outlet.

We are the physical vessels through which God is revealed and works in this world. God gives us the energy and we provide the shape. We are created to be co-Creators with God.

When you go through menopause your ability to create changes and you have to navigate these unusual waters. I like to think about how a caterpillar knows what to do when it becomes a butterfly. Who tells it how to fly? How does it know how to move with these new legs? Everything is different and strange – yet it is normal. It isn’t like it was, but it is like it should be. Perhaps we forget that menopause isn’t a disease. We are transforming into something else. It doesn’t herald the end of life but the beginning of a whole new one.

Being creative saved me and taught me. Art is what saved me when my back hurt. Even though I had to hunch over my desk in order to make my art, somehow the slipped disc in my back no longer hurt.

I found this to be true with doing art now as well. The need isn’t as immediate, but rather it is cumulative. Now, doing art in some form every day centers and focuses me. When my mind was filled with too many ideas, writing helped me slow things down enough that I could think. Painting and making collage at least twice a week has given me a way to create and express myself that don’t use words. Drumming has restored my rhythm.

It took a while to learn how to navigate with these new wings. I didn’t have a guide. Mom died long before she thought about telling me how to “do” menopause. Even if she was alive now, I doubt she’d talk about this. Somehow the reality of being in a physical body was something that she just didn’t talk about. Perhaps being a person was too personal.

Part of my learning was done the hard way. There were a lot of nights where I didn’t get enough sleep, and days where I felt I was going to melt. Hot flashes aren’t a “Western construct” as one person (younger) told me. They are a reality. They aren’t in my mind. I didn’t expect them to happen so soon – so it certainly wasn’t something that I manifested. I’ll concede that perhaps hot flashes are a result of the Western lifestyle (eat whatever you want, don’t exercise).

Some of what I did was to get up when I couldn’t sleep. I would wake, hot in body and mind. Instead of staying in bed, I decided to use that energy. I didn’t want to disturb my husband or concern him though, so I didn’t get all the way up. I moved to another room and turned on one small light. I sat on a recliner in mostly darkness and wrote in my journal or in my Kindle. Some of what I wrote became this blog. Often I’d return to bed, having “burned off” that heat – yet I’d produced something useful with it.

I also started the practice of getting ready to go to work a little earlier. I made time every morning to do something artistic – watercolor pencil drawing, painting, collage, or my new “fortunate stamps” pieces. This took just 20 minutes in the morning, but it has been enough to help me immeasurably. I really notice when I don’t make time to do it. I’m starting to think of making art as a multi-vitamin. It strengthens and protects me.

I’m using this energy I’m finding to take new classes and discover what I want to do “when I grow up”. The coasting I was doing during my middle ages has changed. I no longer want to drift through life. I am trying to play it safe and be bold at the same time, so there is some tension there. I keep taking classes in helping people communicate with each other. There is something about peacemaking and leveling the playing field all rolled up together. My tutoring is factoring into this as well.

Menopause is a chance to discover new wings. It is a time to assess priorities. It is a shift of energy. It isn’t the end – but it is a reminder that life isn’t permanent. For me, creating has been a way to feel like I’m making a difference, that my existence matters. Deep down, that is the reason behind most human activity, according to Matthew Fox in his book “Creativity”. Properly channeled, it results in greatness.

Communication connection

I’m starting to see a connection with all the classes I’ve been taking on my own, the art I’ve been making, and the tutoring I’m doing. It is all about communication – in as many different ways as possible. It is about giving other people permission, as well as different ways, to express themselves.

Pastoral care, the Circle Process, Dialogue in Diversity training, the Remo Healthrhythms Facilitator training – they are all classes I’ve paid for. Tutoring and the classes I’ve taught in prayer bracelets – that has been without pay (mostly) and taken my free time. This is all in addition to working a full-time job.

Something has driven me to take these classes, but I didn’t know what the unifying theme was until now. At the heart of it, all conversation is about communion – our connection with each other, with our own selves, with the Divine. If that sounds too out there, I can say it is about connection to yourself and others.

And that is part of it too. I want to include as many people at once. All races, all cultures, all levels of understanding and ability. This involves learning about different ways of learning, different cultural norms, different myths and legends that shape us. This involves leveling the playing field for everybody – nobody is higher. We are all working together.

I also want people to be able to express themselves not only so they will feel understood, but so that they will understand themselves. Just because English is your native language doesn’t mean that you feel comfortable communicating in it. You may write well, but don’t like speaking out loud. You may speak well, but are embarrassed about your handwriting. Or you can’t spell because you are dyslexic.

I want to remove all of these barriers between people. I want to learn as many tools as possible to get people not only talking with each other but also listening to themselves. Dance, singing, drumming, fingerpainting, puppetry, beading – whatever. I want to learn as many ways to communicate as possible.

It is critical to get out feelings. I believe that unexpressed feelings are the source of all addiction and many diseases. I believe that giving people different ways to communicate is as important as providing equal access to buildings by making them handicap accessible.

We are all handicapped in one way or another. Written and spoken language is artificial. We aren’t born speaking or writing our “native” language. It is an arbitrary system of sounds and shapes assigned to the things around us. It is symbolic, and often difficult to use.

What do you say I am?

Recently I have been asked if I was a minister or a teacher. This was in two different settings, but it was close enough together that I decided to start thinking about it.

In both situations I kind of hedged. I didn’t really say no, and I didn’t really say yes. I am both, in a way. I’m both at the same time, but not officially.

But what makes one official? The paperwork? A ceremony? Does training count? What kind? Or is it simply if you do the work, you are the worker?

For three years, I’ve tutored kindergartners who have learning disabilities or have English as a second language. Before that, I did the same in college for years. I’ve taught classes on various subjects in the medieval reenactment group I was in. I’ve taught classes at my old church. In all these situations, what qualifies me is that I do the work. I just know how, and I do it.

I’ve taken classes in Pastoral care, in the Circle process, and been in the discernment process to be a deacon. I’ve read many books on how to be a minister and how to bridge cultures and styles. I’ve gotten certified as a minister online so I can legally perform weddings for people who are not affiliated with a religious community. In this, what qualifies me is the training.

To me, part of being a minister or a teacher is not that I think I’m better than those that I minister to or teach. It is that I feel it is my blessing to help them remember their own power. It isn’t about “lording” over people. It is about leading them back to themselves.

My goal in both being a minister or a teacher is to help build bridges. I’m a facilitator, a translator. I find out what is preventing them from being able to fully be themselves, and I find a workaround. Perhaps there is some prayer form that they don’t know about. Perhaps they would enjoy painting more than beading. I try to find the best fit for the person.

When people ask me if I’m a minister or a teacher, perhaps I should ask them “What do you say I am?” like Jesus did. Jesus didn’t tell anybody what he was. He just did the work – with no training and no certification. He was all about just getting in there and doing it. He wasn’t ordained, and he didn’t ordain anybody. He was actually against the idea of giving over your power to authority figures.

Perhaps if people on their own are asking me if I’m a minister or a teacher, I am. If they see me that way, then I must be that way, right?

But I’m not a minister or a teacher in the way they think I am. I don’t want them to then think that I have some authority or power over them. It is the exact opposite. I’m here to help them find themselves. I’m here to help remove stumbling blocks. I’m more of a facilitator – I make it easier. In a way, I’m more like a cheerleader than a coach.

Alphabets

If you want to gain an appreciation for how hard it is to learn to write, try learning another alphabet. I’ve always thought that the English alphabet is fairly simple. But that is because I was raised with it. I’ve been using it for years.

When I started tutoring kindergartners, I realized that are a lot of letters that look alike. Lower case “p” and “b” and “d” and q” look a lot alike. A lower case “n” is just a “u” upside down. In one way this is useful. It is a great way to see if a child has a learning disability. If she can’t ever “see” these differences, then perhaps her brain isn’t processing them.

Part of learning to write an alphabet is learning at what point a letter isn’t that letter anymore. This comes into play when you are handwriting the letters. At what point is an “n” an “n”, and at what point is it an “h”? If you put just a little too much tail on the “n” it changes into an “h”. If you put the tail on the right it is wrong. If you put the lines in the wrong place then it isn’t a letter at all. It is just a squiggle.

Writing is just an agreed-upon set of squiggles. Teaching letters to a child is just teaching these symbols, these agreed-upon squiggles. They are symbols because they have meaning. They have meaning because we agree that they do. In and of themselves they mean nothing.

I’ve come to appreciate how hard it is for anybody to learn the English alphabet because I’m learning Hebrew these days. I’m learning to write, read, and speak it. Well, maybe not the whole language. Just now, I’m learning the prayers. I bought a siddur, a Jewish prayer book, but it didn’t show the pronunciations. It showed the Hebrew words and the translation. I want the middle bit – the how-to-pronounce-it bit. I have a book by Blu Greenberg called “How to Run a Traditional Jewish Household” and it has a lot of what I want. There is also a website called “Hebrew 4 Christians” that is very helpful. But none of this is portable. So I’m making my own prayer book. And this involves handwriting the prayers.

Sure, I could literally copy-and-paste, but that would make my little book not so little. Pasting paper onto paper makes the book too thick. Ideally, I’d find some way of assembling this online and then printing out my own little prayer book, but I’ve not found a way to do this. Other alphabets aren’t always supported. And, ultimately, I do want to learn this alphabet. I like learning alphabets. So the best way is to write the words onto the pages myself.

I’m learning a lot of the letters look the same. Some look like just slight variations on other ones. I don’t quite know what makes one letter different from another. What must be included to make sure this letter is this letter? What is too far? What isn’t enough? It is the same as with the “n” and the “h” – what is the line that makes this one different from this one?

I want it to be perfect, but it isn’t going to be perfect without practice. I’m sure that if a reader of Hebrew looks at this, she might be able to figure out what I’ve written. Sure, I could practice on my own, away from this book. I could try to write the prayers and the letters out by hand and then copy them over to this book when I feel that I’ve gotten it – or I can just do it. I think there is something honest about that. I think God likes us to just try, to open ourselves up to being able to make mistakes.

You’ll never learn to walk unless you let go of the table you are holding on to. You have to try to take a few steps on your own. And when you do, your parent is overjoyed. Your first few baby steps are beautiful to her. They are awkward, and wobbly, but they are beautiful. They are beautiful because you are doing it. And with every step, you are walking closer to your parent’s open arms.

I think God thinks the same about my little prayer book. The letters are awkward and wobbly, but they are beautiful. I’m trying. And with every stroke I’m getting better. And with every stroke I’m walking closer to God.

ESL and LD tutoring

When I first started tutoring, I thought I was just going to work with ESL students.

There are a surprising number of people from all around the world who move to Nashville. In my little suburb there are people from China, Somalia, Uzbekistan, and the Congo, as well as people from Mexico. They either bring their children with them, or they give birth to them here. Either way, they are entitled to a free public education.

Going to school for the first time is hard enough. Not sharing the same language as your classmates and teacher is extra hard.

Sometimes the class is comprised entirely of children who don’t have English as their first language. Sometimes the ESL children and the EL children are mixed together. There are advantages and disadvantages to both approaches.

I never thought of myself as an ESL tutor, much less a tutor to kindergartners, but I’d been praying about a way to help others and this opened up. Helping people assimilate is one of the many ways to make the world better.

So many people say “Why don’t they learn our language?” when talking about immigrants, but they don’t take the time to teach “them” the language. Learning a language is very hard and it takes a lot of time. You can try to teach yourself, but working with another person is the best way. Be part of the solution, you know.

I was helping a man from Haiti get his library card. He had a friend with him who was helping out. I was explaining things in English, but somehow how I was explaining it got in. His friend noticed and commented that I should be an ESL teacher.

All Metro employees had been offered the opportunity to volunteer in the schools for an hour a week on work time, so I contacted a patron who teaches ESL kindergartners. She was delighted to have me help. I think she was delighted to have help, period. I did all the paperwork and started as soon as I could.

Something I quickly realized was that I didn’t have to know the child’s language at all in order to help them. I have to know mine. Their goal is to learn to read and write in English. So it had nothing to do with my ability with their language. That was helpful to realize, and got me over my fear.

Teaching is scary. You never know if you are doing it right. What works with one student totally bombs with another. There is never enough time, and there are never enough tutors. You just keep on trying. You just keep on showing up.

Then I noticed that the teacher kept assigning me students who spoke English as a first language but were struggling for some reason. I balked at first. I thought I was there for the ESL kids. But the more I worked with these other kids, the more I realized I was needed for them as well. I was often able to diagnose a learning disability before anyone else had caught it. This resulted in an early intervention and a better outcome.

I tutored students with learning disabilities when I was in college. I’ve come to realize that almost every job since has involved helping people who have a hard time communicating or expressing themselves. I hadn’t planned this. It just happened. I don’t have any training for this. It is just something I have a knack for.

The funny thing is that I’ve come to realize that ESL and LD are the same thing. They both represent a disability to process ideas into the symbolic language of speech and letters. The letters and sounds of any language are arbitrary and invented. They are not natural. They are an agreed-upon construct that we use to communicate with each other. It is totally normal that some people would have a hard time with these symbols. The only problem is that these particular symbols aren’t optional.

Being able to communicate is essential. While I’m for offering people multiple ways to express themselves such as through art and music, language is a cornerstone. It is something that we all share, and is the basis for much of our culture.

If people cannot communicate they get frustrated. This leads to tension and anger. It is essential that people are able to express what they feel, not only to get it out, but to share it with others. They need to be able to understand themselves, and make themselves understood.

So I’m really not teaching people how to read and write, so much as how to interact with other people in this culture, using English as a bridge. It doesn’t matter whether they come from this culture or not.

Tutoring – and the desk

Many of you may be wondering why I’ve not written about tutoring recently. We are shorthanded at work right now, so I’ve not been able to go like I normally have been. I’ve really appreciated the ability to tutor on work time. This is something that the Mayor of Nashville has made available to Metro employees. Metro schools need help, and there are a lot of Metro employees. He made it possible that if you wanted to, and if it wouldn’t adversely affect your workplace, you could go volunteer in a Metro school for an hour a week. It isn’t much, but everything counts.

We’ve been without a fifth person in my department for months. While we can get by on four, it isn’t even that sometimes. Plenty of people have been out sick so that makes it three. Sometimes one of those three is a temp, so it is more like two and a half. The new branch manager was concerned about how things were backing up on Wednesdays when I go to tutor, so she asked me to put it on pause.

There have been pauses before, and we’ve gotten through them. I’m sure it was a surprise to the students. I wasn’t able to warn them, because it was a sudden decision at work. Time is different when you are five. Patterns are just developing. I remember when I’ve had to pause before and come back I get really amazing hugs from the kids. These are different kids and they are a little standoffish. We’ll see.

I could go tutor on my time off. I’ve thought about it. I’ve done it before. While that is a good idea for the kids, it isn’t a great idea for me. Forty hours a week is a LONG time at work. It just doesn’t leave much time for doing anything else. So while they need me, and while I’d like to go, I don’t think I’ll be going on my own time.

I thought I’d share this with you. It is my “desk” when I tutor.

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This is in the hallway just a few steps away from the classroom. There are always two chairs, one big one and one small one. I put them this way – with the big one in the center for the student, and the small one to the side for me. I know this is backwards from how it is normally done. I do it so that when we sit, we are both the same height, so we work on the projects together.

This is really important to me. This is very subtle and psychological. I don’t want them to see me as above them or better than them. I’m a tutor. I’m here to help them help themselves. I’m a guide and a cheerleader. I’m not teaching them anything. I’m showing them the assignments that we have to work on and we are figuring them out. I provide feedback and direction. But all along, they are doing the work.