Friday, September 18, 2015
Failure Is Not an Option
I'm a little nervous so I arrive about 20 minutes early to check out the study room in the public library. The room is small with a built-in table against one wall and clearly designed for no more than two people. It is cold! I should have brought a sweater. I spread out my notebook, two pencils, the first lesson, and tuck my purse into the corner. I look around, and satisfied, head out to the main part of the library.
This library used to be about 25% of its current size. There was a plan to build a new library for the community in the budget, before the deficits raised issues a few years ago. In the old building the librarians had a workroom/storage area about the size of a large broom closet and there were two tiny offices. I had done some volunteer work years ago in the old library building and was cramped into a corner trying to enter subscription data with two other librarians within touching distance of their tiny desks. The two children's librarians had only plastic bins on the floor to store their tools. The circulation desk was slap up against a wall. When the local gourmet food market on the main road could not get a buyer, the county bought the building and using less money converted the space into a new library. The new space is lighter, roomer and closer to the main traffic. This library was used a lot when it was smaller and off the road near a school and some woods and within walking distance of the Senior Center, but it gets even more use now that there is room and it is closer to town.
I look at the shelves to pass the time and find Harper Lee's book "Go Set a Watchman" which I had been wanting to read and take it to a comfortable chair to peruse. After about ten minutes I hear a conversation regarding the location of a study room and I hear my name. I stand and walk over to where the librarian is pointing and I see an attractive, casually dressed (in clean jeans and a wine colored T-shirt), stocky, black woman. She looks like she might be in her 40's-50's. Her stance is energetic and I am sure she is my student. I approach her and indicate who I am.
She waves her arm in my direction and begs "I just have to get something to eat! Just a few minutes."
I respond, "No problem." as she is fifteen minutes early.
I go back to the study room as my student disappears outside somewhere. There are a few restaurants on the strip mall and the gas station has food. I sort the lesson and wait.
Five minutes after our start time, my student comes back energetically into the room. She does not smell of food, so maybe all she had was a granola bar and a drink in the car. She is a talker like me, so our greetings topple over each other. I formally introduce myself and offer my hand. She introduces herself and we shake hands, talk some more, and she offers her hand again and we shake ... again.
I do like her and we settle down into learning about her study issues, etc.
She is so eager to get through this training in order to graduate in October of 2016, that I am worried about how she is setting her short term goals. She explains how she had to drop out of school at 17 because she was pregnant. She has at least one child now in college. She wants so much to get her degree in front of her children and grandchildren and then as tears come to her eyes, she apologizes and gets a tissue. She does not once mention that the diploma is for a job opportunity. It seems this is a personal goal for her.
Yes, I can feel the pressure on me to make this training successful. She talks about teachers she has liked and the class that she has to go to that very evening for math.
I start with a few charts and vocabulary sheets that were given to me to help with approaching word problems.
We start with the basics of trying to decode a word problem. I read her the first exercise which involves determining how much a waiter made in tips when we know his hourly wage, number of hours worked, and total money he gets at the end of the day. She is slow to figure this out and I am wondering if I am helping her too much as we multiply, add and then subtract. I have her read the next problem and this takes me back to fourth grade when some fellow classmates would nervously struggle with reading a paragraph out loud. Now I see that some of her problem is reading and not just math.
She is bravely not too self-conscious although she apologizes too much. I am totally positive and full of encouragement reminding her these are steps of the journey, reminding her to take her time, and then giving clues when I need to. We struggle though the problems for an hour and then I give her an exercise sheet and ask her to do a few of the problems for the next class. We do the first one together and when we both come up with the same answer, which according to my "Key" is wrong, it takes a few minutes for us to realize that the exercise has a major typo! This is going to be more work than I thought!
We talk about learning styles and then I suggest a later time for our next Tuesday class because it will give her some free time before she has to drive further up the road for her other class. Both my class and the other class are about 20 minutes from where she lives.
I think she is feeling good about the session and she insists on giving me a hug when we leave. I am a big hugger, so feel good about that.
Now I have to do some serious research on learning styles, learning strategies, and real teaching...not just training which I do with my grandkids. This is making me reach just like her, so I think this may work out for us both. I do not want to fail her!