Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Too Old to Learn New Tricks?

Way back in January of this year when gray snow and blistering winds were all that greeted me as I left the house, I decided I needed some activity that was more inspiring for me and more useful to others, before I turned into a winter hermit.  I perused the listing of volunteer activities in the county newspaper and the Adult Basic Education program caught my eye.  I used to teach many decades ago, and figured my skills were not that rusty.  Some one on one time with someone who needed my help could be pretty rewarding for me as well.

After placing a call to the ABE office I was told that they would place my name on their list...there would be training...there were others also on this list.  January came and went and February was almost over before I received a call that there would be a meeting/training session in March and did I have a date or two that suited me?  There was much juggling as there were four of us who led complicated lives and finally the ABE office admitted they would have to have two sessions to accommodate us.

I drove up to the old concrete block building across from the fire station.  It was uninviting and sparse in decor.  It reminded me of an old school room in the the 1950's with walls filled with workbooks and reading materials and some old fashioned desks in the middle of the room.  Budget constraints were clearly visible everywhere.  There were two women of pre-retirement age and gentle personalities to explain the program as we two potential tutors sat at a small round table.  Lots of paperwork.  The training consisted of some simple rules, ideas and paperwork forms and took a few afternoon hours.  I was asked to complete a form on how many students I was willing to tutor, whether it was English and/or math, etc.  I said one student to start, and although I do hate math I was afraid I would never get a student if I didn't check that box also...everyone wants to teach reading comprehension or grammar, etc.  They said it would take some time as they had to run background checks on us among other things.

I went home to wait for an assignment.  Spring came and my volunteer garden work and travel filled the months.  Summer came and my grandchildren visits filled my time.  I had almost forgotten about this teaching project.  Then the last week of August I get a call to tutor a math student.  My heart sank because I really had forgotten all my math and in the back of my mind I had been hoping for English.  Who does math anymore with computers and calculators everywhere?  But having a Puritan work ethic I said I would be happy to tutor this adult woman in math.

I was given the name and phone number of the student but told to wait two weeks while the office put together a packet of lessons for me.  Oddly, I was beginning to panic more!  What made me think I could teach basic math?  I researched some exercises on the Internet and tried hard to remember how to reduce fractions, figure perimeters, calculate percentages, etc.  Gosh, I was going to have to re-learn everything.

I drove up to the local high school and picked up the lengthy study packet and reviewed the lessons inside and then called the student.  She was thrilled to hear from me, desperate to get her high school diploma, and willing to meet on any day, any place, and any time for tutoring.  Yes, having an eager student is golden, but I was still very nervous as I set a date to meet at the public library the following week.  During our phone conversation she was interrupted by noises of children in the back ground.  Excusing herself, but not bothering to put her hand across the receiver, I heard her yelling at them and scolding them to behave.  When she got back to me she apologized and explained they were her grandchildren!  Shoot, if she could do this, why not I?

While I sorted materials and made a flexible plan, the day of the lesson arrived and she called to cancel because her niece had been taken to the hospital.  I am well aware that adult students have all kinds of reasons for not moving forward with their goals and that they have real lives to interfere and that sometimes they use excuses to avoid doing the work.  Yet, I heaved a sigh of relief to be given a short reprieve.

I called a few days later to re-schedule.  Yesterday we did finally meet for our first lesson and I will tell you how that went in my next post.


  1. I've been there. These programs were good, once upon a time, and my mother was able to tutor a lot of people successfully through a program in Oakland, California. But it sounds as if it's all been put behind the door now.
    We should acknowledge that many of our citizens are living in third world conditions and stress education and universal health care for all. Put a floor under people so they don't drop out of sight completely. This needs to be a mass movement. Individual initiative, especially when there is a lot of foot-dragging, is not sufficient and perhaps harmful.
    That said, as they say, I hope things go well with your next tuttee.

  2. I could probably use your services since I'm terrible at math.

  3. Good luck, I' be forgotten most of the math I ever knew.

  4. I got a job near the end of my working life as an editor for an educational software company. I was expecting to do English for 9th graders but noooo! They set me to writing 9th grade Algebra lessons, no one else to do it they said. I nearly flunked Algebra in 9th grade before just barely getting a B by year end. Avoided math classes ever since. Off to the library for books and a teacher friend gave me a lesson plan to work from and I gave myself a remedial Algebra crash course. it came back, I wrote them, they were checked and proofed and off they went into publication. Every time one of my grandkids says why do I need Algebra I tell them that story and say "you just never know."

    I just know you can do it Tabor.

  5. Good for you, getting in there and doing what may be out of your comfort zone, but what is so needed! One thing we do have in this area is a GED program that any adult who didn't finish high school can attend, and it runs 5 days a week from very early morning until about 8pm, to accommodate work schedules. Students commit to coming for 15 hours a week and can be there as long as it takes for them to pass the test.

  6. Yes, tell us how it went. I think of volunteering but have yet to actually follow through. My mother did volunteer work but that was another era, she didn't work but as a doctor's wife certain things were expected of her in the society she aspired to.

  7. Oh, you left me hanging! Now I really want to know the rest of the story!
    Oh, and Good for you.

  8. Good for you, but the vetting procedure and the wait do seem onerous, which is perhaps the wrong word.

  9. Math, no less! I think it is great that you do so much volunteer work. It would have been nice had you been able to jump right in back in January.

  10. Being a math person, I would love that assignment! But it would be frustrating for me for them to cancel appointments, etc. Goodness, it did take a long time to get you qualified to teach!

  11. Tabor, please forgive me, I responded quickly without thinking. You are young
    and should continue on doing new things that help you grow and fill your time. At your age I was building homes and
    stopped at age 75. Good luck to you...

  12. Goodness you are a brave woman. And goodnessd their volunteer services works very slowly. Yes, I want to know what happens next.


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