Teaching Lessons

Generally, I’m the sort of person who prays, "Lord, give me patience, and give it to me NOW!! My friend Ivymoon tells me that I simply have an addiction to instant gratification, which might be true. This impatience of mine has certainly affected me in many arenas of my life; in career, for example. I get irritated if I don’t get that interview today, and I’m especially irritated that I’m not in my dream job right now.

Of course, the second part of my prayer usually reads something like, "Well, God, if you haven’t given it to me already, I guess I just won’t ever have it." This fatalism can be pretty destructive, I know. The part of me which is irritated at not being in my dream job today is also convinced that I’ll never have that dream job. Simply because I don’t have it now. The logic runs something like this:

A, therefore B.
    A = "I do not have x (a possession, a situation, whatever) at this time"
    B = "I will never have x."

Yes, I know the logic is really twisted; in fact, this kind of logic has frequently led me to take the "path of least resistance", or to simply be lazy. But I’m working on it. I’ve recently had the logic demonstrated to be absolutely false in a couple of instances, so I know that it doesn’t work. Nevertheless, it’s hard to break out of the mindset.

I’m working on it, though. I really am. I’m not giving up on the job quest this time around; and I’m not settling for anything except my "dream job" (or at least something that will put me firmly on the road to achieving that dream job).

One of the best ways to learn patience, I’ve discovered, is by teaching. Especially teaching adult literacy.

Adult literacy is probably the most important cause I can think of. I think it’s obscene that the United States, one of the most technologically advanced can be so socially backwards as to have a nearly 20% adult illiteracy rate. So I do what little I can to remedy this injustice, which is to help one adult learn how to read. (Here’s another way to look at it. A friend of mine once told me that he was addicted to books, and had come up with a "self test" to determine book addiction. I took the test, and found that I, too, am seriously addicted to reading. I then asked my friend if the fact that I’m a volunteer literacy tutor makes me not just an addict, but a pusher. My friend answered, "But of course!")

My current student is a native Spanish speaker who did not complete school, and who only arrived in the United States very recently. Not only is my student a non-native speaker of English, but he never really learned how to read Spanish, either.

I have to tell you, though, that I am seriously in awe of this guy. He’s several years older than I am, but has taken on this tremendous challenge: learning how to read and write English. My past experience has shown that native English speakers have a hard enough time learning how to read as adults; but for someone who has never learned how to read in any language, learning how to read in a non-native language has got to be near impossible. And heck, I remember how hard it was for me to learn other languages when I was immersed in people who spoke my own language. If I’d had to learn German by going to Germany instead of taking a class at the University, I would have been overwhelmed.

My student, though, is very bright, and quite intelligent. He’s helped me understand some of the difficulties he’s had with learning to read English (the English alphabet, which is slightly different than the Spanish alphabet, confuses him from time to time), so we’ve been able to work out some strategies to help him learn faster. On several occasions, I’ve deviated from the prepared script the literacy council has given to me, and I’ve used Spanish words and phrases quite often when working with my student (what little of Spanish I remember, at least). All in all, it’s been a very interesting and rewarding experience. Nevertheless, I do sometimes find myself getting frustrated as I find that some concepts must be explained anew each session; these are some concepts that are common in English, but which aren’t as strong in Spanish. Fortunately, my student is persistent and intelligent, and has a good sense of humor about the whole process. When he understands something, or gets a new concept, the feeling is very rewarding.

I, personally, don’t remember ever having learned how to read; some of my earliest memories are of me with books, and I was always a much more advanced reader than most of my peers throughout school. So, it’s something that I’ve taken for granted, and it’s difficult for me to even imagine not knowing how to read. Still, I can imagine that learning how to look at symbols on a piece of paper and trying to figure out how they translate into words, and how these words even convey meaning, like a story. I can only imagine that it must be almost overwhelming. And illiteracy has such a terrible stigma in our society; it must have taken my student a lot of guts to even pick up the telephone, call the literacy council and say, "I would like to learn how to read."

So. While I’m teaching my student how to read, I am also learning from him: lessons in patience, persistence, courage, and risk-taking. While I’m working on making my career switch, these are going to be very valuable lessons; I just hope that I can learn them well.

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