Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Variations on clouds: 2.

More late afternoon clouds over Portland.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Looking back, and starting to look forward.

Happy Veterans Day! For most people, this day involves getting up at the normal time, eating a normal breakfast, headed to work via the normal route. It's one of those "holidays" that we acknowledge, yet simultaneously makes us a little bitter inside--if the forces that "be" cared enough about honoring and remembering this day, chances are they wouldn't have us tied to our desks at work. Then again, to be completely fair, if given the day off, we probably wouldn't spend it honoring its namesake. Case in point: my first year at Lewis and Clark, the first day of classes for Spring semester began on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. A collection of students, faculty, and staff elect to protest this fact as outrageous, and the school (being an all-around pretty cool place) acquiesced and gave us the day off--provided we attend some of the events that they held around campus. Did I ever know anyone who did? Of course not. They honored the holiday by sleeping in, watching Maury Povich in their pj's, and possibly updating their friendster profiles (yes, when I was in college, friendster, not facebook was the social networking site de rigueur.

In all fairness and in the interest of full-disclosure, my job, being at an institution that was built on providing post-war education to WWII veterans, DID, in fact, give us the day off--thus my ability to spend all this time working on a blog post.

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I've been thinking an awful lot lately about the next phase of life that lies in front of me. Since I graduated from college, I've done plenty of interesting things. I've worked several strange, unfulfilling jobs, participated in a host of volunteer opportunities, and have seen a lot of places, and met my share of unique individuals (see previous post, titled "Quirk."). Despite this, I've felt aimless and adrift. Sure it's fun to live in a vibrant, interesting city, go to concerts, drink lots of coffee and hunker down with a few good books come autumn. Yet, lo and behold, that's not enough for me. Those kinds of indulgences really only seem pleasantly indulgent when you've something to contrast them against. So, as fall came to Portland, this year I sought out a new tutoring adventure, scoured the roster of upcoming classes at PSU, and started devouring information on local teaching programs.

While submerged in the erudition and ego inflation that comes with being a top student in any respectable department at a small college, the idea of being a teacher didn't work for me--why be a teacher when I could be a professor? One who professes! Egged on by mentors who encouraged me to aim for the stars I applied to and was rejected from some of the country's top graduate programs in my field. This was a good thing. Learning how to eat a little crow, figuring out that--in truth--only my ego wanted to be a professor, or "Doctor" of my subject, and learning what it meant to support myself, get along with a housemate, and survive emotionally, spiritually, and financially in a city (albeit, little Portland), were vastly important lessons to learn--and ones I keep learning. In the meantime, though, that little sparrow on my shoulder kept reminding me that there was more to life than just making my monthly bill payments.

So I started volunteering. First it was with a community college. They gave me a student who wasn't enrolled in any classes and said, "Go! Teach her English!" They loaned me a few texts to use for structure, and turned me loose. Mai and I worked together for the entirety of a school year, and made some decent progress--her English improved, and so did my understanding of what it means to teach someone. It challenged my creativity, my perseverance, and, of course, my patience. We had our last session in June, and then I took the summer off.

A short 2 months ago, I started volunteering with a different group, this time a Refugee Resettlement program that works with a number of people from East African populations. They were looking for Homework Helpers, and I was, by that point, looking for some experience working with kids. And experience have I gained! While still a relative newbie as far as young people go, my two months there have been a wild ride. The kids I work with range from kindergartners to high schoolers. For the first half of my time there, I help kids color in shapes, connect the dots, and complete simple addition. This is the younger kids group, and sometimes the junior high schoolers.

The older kids tend to be a pretty self-sufficient bunch, and aren't as needy as the little ones. For the most part they don't tug on your clothes, they don't throw pencils, and they don't push each other off chairs. Generally, they also refrain from throwing temper-tantrums.

It's such a challenging environment: culturally, they're a group that has a very different background from my own experience; numerically, we work with probably 25-30 kids throughout the 2 hours I'm there in a drop-in fashion--that ends up resulting in a lot of time-management, learning how to say "no," and developing some crowd-control skills; subject-wise I find myself tutoring the finer details of imperative and declarative sentences one minute, and helping out with algebra and long-division the next. I hope that this is helping me develop the kinds of skills that I will be able to build upon in a teaching program, and, eventually, in a classroom.

My ultimate goal has developed into this: I want to teach secondary school English and language arts. I also want to earn an endorsement in ESL and perhaps, someday, one in Reading as well. I find it a little scary to say that out-loud: I want to be a teacher. I want to teach teenagers. Part of me finds that awful and abhorrent... I WHAT? I doubt myself and this choice of a career path on an almost daily basis. But when it comes to the end of a day, when I've tutored, and when I've helped a student--one who barely reads, let alone writes in English--finish an assignment, I get this cheesy, glowy feeling, and I think I'm on the right track.