Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Joy of Teaching

I never imagined I would be an Adult Continuing Education and GED instructor when I was child in Houston. I had no desire to teach. My mind and heart were fixed on the bright lights of Broadway, and I thought I'd eventually relocate to Los Angeles and work in television and film. If anything, I would have probably taught acting workshops and once I felt qualified, I would directed and taught other directors. 

I think the best teachers are actors and directors, for no other reason could we lead and inspire various personalities, skill sets, and appease parents. Apart from helping classmates in school, younger siblings, and later their children with multiplication tables and personal essays, I didn't think of myself as a teacher. That changed when I relocated to New York and was between jobs as most actors and freelancers tend to be. I responded to an online ad for GED instructors in Spanish Harlem, and didn't know the first thing about formal instruction.

The job description called for a focused, dedicated, and energetic education professional. The only thing that wasn't on my resume was certified teaching gigs. I was accustomed to casting calls, cold readings, and convincing someone that I was right for the part. How different could this potential job be once I learned my role teaching inner city teens and adults?  

I was to prepare a fifteen-minute lesson, and if the students didn't like me, I'd be on my way. My former boss stood nervously in the door as I passed out handouts, loosened my tie, and set about my mock training and part two of the job interview. What felt like an hour, was in reality twenty minutes. We locked eyes and she gave the hand signal to continue because I had a captive audience. 

In a matter of a week I was to become an instructor, sensitive to high school dropouts and adults who had long since abandoned their education to marry, raise a family, and coincidentally put their children through school. 

Walking across town once a week with my three-ring binder in my backpack, I never knew what to expect, and which students would attend having understood and completed their assignments. Some students complained that the work was too difficult, while others didn't have resources to buy classroom supplies and were embarrassed to say so. 

I was getting an informal education not afforded me in the Houston suburbs. There were days I felt square and out completely out of touch, but I forged ahead with Shakespeare, Alice Munro, Chinua Achebe, The Elements of Style, and The Elements of Grammar. I was determined to expose my students, level the playing field, somehow. 

A few of my fondest memories. Being called Mister, which of course reminded me of Sidney Poitier. My female students, no big stretch there, embraced learning and oftentimes challenged the male students. The time some of my former students offered to walk me home after a disruptive student threatened to beat me up because he didn't understand an assignment, and felt by pommeling me into a pulp, would make it and me go away.

I miss my students and that first storefront GED workshop. I then moved on to two community centers and two nights a week when my former boss relocated to new educational nonprofits. I miss creating weekly lesson plans, the smell of the dry erase markers, and seeing the look on a student's face when the light bulb pops on. Teaching a class is different than being a writing workshop moderator, but I use a similar toolkit.

All isn't lost. I recently began teaching Stage II Fiction Workshop for writers ages thirty-nine to sixty. I look forward to hitting my stride again, but with fewer students who happen to have formal education.  

Who are your favorite teachers? What did they do to inspire you? What are your best school memories? 

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Lambs to the Slaughter

I've known several willing, beguiled, and accidental lambs to the slaughter, but none have unnerved me more than one of my closest friends over the last few years. Once thought to be solely naive, and would eventually snap out of it, he hasn't in the five years I've known him. I'm not his keeper. He's not my responsibility, but it's troubling to see him stand in line, bleat, and place his exposed neck beneath the butcher's axe weekly or even daily. 

I think his sacrificial tendencies have their roots in his religious upbringing. He was raised to fear God, sacrifice for his fellow man, woman, or child, and do his best to follow biblical teachings. I'm all for helping, temporarily, those who can't manage their affairs, but I draw the line at being a glutton for misplaced religious ideals and beliefs. It's not poking fun at another person's core, but an examination of how people can be lead astray for something unseen and higher. It's as if those who've come before us failed, and want to live vicariously through their books and teachings, hoping that the next generation will get it right. 

I've sat or stood, mouth agape at many of the precarious situations where he'd willingly walk into the butcher's shop, perhaps thinking that time would yield different results. I used to think his blind faith was enviable, something lacking in me, something that I should strive for in my own life. My chemistry is different. I don't have the innate ability to repeatedly put myself in danger. In recent times, it has become so bad that I play peekaboo. I can't bear to look but for a few seconds and then must turn away. I lower my head into my hands, again, perhaps in silent prayer. Dear God, Almighty,what is this,Your child, doing? 

Each time, and there have been numerous, that he's been tricked, he rebukes the charlatan to all high heaven. God will rain down retribution simply because someone yet again took full advantage of his lack of common sense, social skills, or deep-seeded religious beliefs. Oftentimes it has been and continues to be a wicked combination of the three. I marvel at his predicaments, other times I feel sorry. Can someone truly be that gullible and hard-headed as not to have figured out in adulthood that there are real bogeymen? 

In an unconcerned manner-unaware of the impending catastrophe. This is the online definition for lambs to the slaughter. To further expound on this: to live as if you've no cares in the world, and that your family, friends, or spouse will grant you infinite do-overs despite the near-countless times you've been warned about the same foolhardy lapses in judgment and mistakes. How can you not be aware of an impending disaster if you've done that same thing or followed a similar pattern before? Are you hoping for different results with a different person? Does the hair on your arms or back of your neck not rise, alerting you to danger like Spiderman? 

It's exhausting being friends with willing sacrificial lambs. I've learned recently not to scold, but remain stoic, sympathetic half-smile about my face, trying not to project across my forehead in circulating Broadway lights: No, not again. You didn't walk into the the lion's den baring gifts? You knew you'd be eaten or at least maimed? Wait for it. Braying. Rebuking. Flailing of arms. Swearing that he won't be taken advantage of, again. Wait. Flawed innocence  of a child sets in, and the immediate surroundings fall silent. Each time this ritual takes place, my heart breaks less. Not out of indifference, but I can't traverse that weathered road often.  

I feel guilty sometimes, but hope and pray that my friend and others like him will wake up one day and poof ... will be sharp and savvy, unable to be taken so easily. I don't know how much longer I'll be able to witness from arm's length the multitude of mishaps and avoidable snares my dear friend steps into regularly. 

"Vanna, I'd like to solve the puzzle, please!"

Monday, April 05, 2010

Seeking P/T Male Admin Assistant

Home-based male business owner seeks male assistant solely because I work from home and know it might be off-putting for a female assistant to work in such close proximity, otherwise I'd be open to either a female or male.

The ideal assistant is organized, thorough, versed in MS Office (Word, Excel, Power Point, and Access), types at least 40 wpm, speaks clear and fluent English with no accent. Bonus if assistant is in fact bilingual (English/Spanish) as some tasks might include Spanish-language negotiations.

The initial weekly hours might fluctuate (ten to fifteen hours over three weekdays), but will stabilize within the next six to nine weeks as business continues to grow and assistant shows his mettle.

I'm looking for an admin assistant interested in publishing, media, entertainment, and talent booking, with an aptitude for numbers. Some tasks will include drafting business correspondence, proofreading, copywriting, making cold calls, and eventually booking singers, bands, and event planning.

Potential assistant should have wireless enabled laptop to work from living room or kitchen table. Home-cooked lunch can be provided some days. Please send cover letter, résumé, and two writing samples (business and creative) with the Subject: Administrative Assistant here.

Thanks in advance.