What I’m Reading: June 2016

One thing I hoped for after graduation has come true: I have a lot more time to read.  I finally have a full-time job, so my days are spoken for, but I no longer have to make room in my evenings for homework.  So books have made it back into my life on the regular, thank goodness!

Resultado de imagen para my not so perfect life coverIt’s not summer for me without a Sophie Kinsella book, and this is the newest one, published in February of this year.  It follows the classic Kinsella style of zany characters and hilariously ridiculous situations, but it felt a bit more serious than her earlier books, especially the Shopaholic series.  In this, Katie Brenner is a recent college grad (like myself) who is trying to break into the world of branding.  She lands a job at a prestigious firm, but is a bit intimidated by her boss, whose social media accounts make it look like her life could not be more perfect.  Katie is simultaneously in awe and repulsed, but when she gets fired she has a whole host of new problems to deal with.

I enjoyed this because it’s the first Kinsella protagonist I’ve read who was just starting out in life.  I identified with Katie, and I admit felt a bit jealous that she is working in her field so soon after graduation.  But Katie is definitely not perfect either, and that made her so easy to root for.  I saw myself and my friends in her, and I wanted her to succeed.  She learns a lot of hard, adult-y lessons throughout the book, but it still has the nice, satisfying ending that is characteristic to Kinsella books.

Resultado de imagen para universal harvester coverUniversal Harvester is one I wish I could have read in school, or even in a book club, because it begs to be re-read and pondered and analyzed.  Set in the late 90s, it follows Jeremy, who works at a video rental store.  Jeremy, who has lived alone with his father since his mother died in a car accident, is settled into his routine, and likes it that way.  But he can’t help but be curious when several tapes get returned with extra scenes edited in, scenes that seem to have been shot not far from his house.

When I started this, it felt like a creepy thriller.  The mystery surrounding the tapes seemed dark.  Once I realized that — spoiler alert — the narrator is not the author, but another, unknown character, it got even creepier.  But as I got even farther into the book, the creepiness melted away, and it just felt horribly sad.

I know I’m being vague about this book, but it’s the kind that demands to be read to be understood.  You can go read the description on Amazon or Goodreads if you want more info.  What I will say is that Darnielle’s writing style is incredible.  Reading a novel with an unreliable narrator is one of my favorite things in the world, and he executed that perfectly.  This is going to be one I beg other people to read so we can talk about it.

Resultado de imagen para yo julia alvarez coverYo! is by the same author who wrote How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, which I loved.  This I have not loved nearly as much.  But part of it is because at first I didn’t realized that this book continues the story Yolanda, one of the Garcia girls, throughout her lifetime.  It’s an eventful one, too — she angers her entire family by writing about them, gets kicked out of college, and marries — three times.  If I had realized that this Yo was the same as the Garcia Girls Yo at first, maybe I would’ve liked it better.

But another reason I haven’t loved this is because I am reading it in Spanish.  While I have no trouble reading and comprehending words, comprehending voice is a different story.  In this book, each chapter has a different narrator.  Sometimes they are named, and sometimes they aren’t.  I also didn’t realize that at first, because it does take a little more effort for me to understand Spanish novels.  I found that it helps immensely if I read out loud, but I can’t read the entire thing aloud to myself.  I did finish the book, but I think I would have enjoyed it much more in English.

That said, it’s still an incredible work.  (Also, some of my issues may stem from the translation, since it was written in English originally.)  But even with my somewhat foggy understanding of the book, Alvarez’s unique writing style comes through.  Her characterization and place settings are both beautiful in their own way, and the fact that she wrote every single chapter in a different voice speaks to her talent.  Even though I haven’t enjoyed this nearly as much as How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, I’d still recommend it, and I may end up reading it again in English in the future.

 

Introducing NerdyWordyBirdy

No, not me.  You already know me.  And since you already know me, you probably already know that in trying to keep up my Spanish skills, I decided it would be a good idea to start a blog in Spanish.  So I did.

Si habla español y quiere leer mi blog nuevo, haz clic aquí.

This blog was started solely to practice my Spanish.  I could have just created a folder on my Google Drive, but I like blogs too much, and posting my work where anyone can (hypothetically) read it makes me more careful about grammar and good content, and gives me more accountability and incentive.

As of now, the plan is to post once a week on Mondays.  I may end up using essay prompts, or even write short fictional pieces.  I’m typically not a fan of fiction blogs, but I’ve been having writer’s block of late, and the point of the new blog is to practice, not to write the most profound posts ever.  (Although if I stumble upon a really good idea, you won’t find me complaining.)

So, if you speak Spanish, feel free to take a look.  If not, or if this doesn’t interest you in the slightest, please ignore my shameless self-promotion.

I Want More Spanish Books Everywhere

You all know I love reading, and that I just graduated with a degree in Spanish.  I posted here (before my impromptu graduating-and-moving blogging break) about how I’m planning on keeping up my Spanish skills.  One of the biggest ways I’ll be doing that is by reading in Spanish, so every time I go to a library or bookstore I browse the Spanish section.

Just in the last week or two, I’ve been to four bookstores and library branches.  And of the places who actually have books in Spanish (some don’t have any at all), all of the ones they have are condensed into just two, three, or four feet of shelf space.  That’s not a lot, when you consider that entire niche sub-genres — like, say, vampire young adult fantasy novels — may have the same amount of shelf space.

Here in America, we have vast bookstores.  We have sections for bestselling fiction, literary fiction, young adult fiction, historical fiction, Christian fiction, and chick lit fiction.  We have romances, erotica, sci-fi, thrillers, epic fantasies, and crime dramas.  We have biographies and memoirs, how-to everything, travel sections, technology books, books of just photos, books to read in the bathroom, every type of cookbook you could think of, and dozens of different magazines.  We have books on every religion imaginable, and many bookstores have one or more aisles dedicated entirely to different versions of the Bible.

Aside from books, bookstores also typically have huge sections of stationery and notebooks, small gift items, and coffee shops.  Barnes and Noble has the Nook e-reader section complete with its plethora of accessories.  Bookstores have sections just for kids, with books and toys geared towards them, and entire sections blocked off for music and movies.  Do you want me to go on?

We have all of this in some form in almost every bookstore you could ever walk into.  Now, there are almost 43 million Spanish-speakers in the US as of 2015 (and not all of them are of Hispanic/Latino origin), which is almost 10% of the population.  This number is only getting higher as the years go by.  And yet, despite this, bookstores allow only a small fraction of their shelf space to books in Spanish, and this tiny amount of shelf space is expected to encompass the highlights of every genre that is offered in English in the rest of the store.  It’s ridiculous.

Now, I do have to admit that while I couldn’t find any statistics on it, I don’t think Spanish speakers read in Spanish as much as anyone reads in English.  I discussed this with one of my Costa Rican teachers when I spent a month in Costa Rica studying abroad.  We were in the “getting to know you” stage, and she asked me what I liked to do for fun.  I told her one of my favorite things was reading, and she asked me how many books I read a year.  I told her it’s probably 20-24 on average, and she was astonished.  She told me she reads maybe 1 or 2, and that most people she knows haven’t picked up a book since they got out of school.  Of course, this was a small town in Costa Rica, not in the US.  I have no way of knowing whether reading is something that is valued in Spanish-speaking households here, because apparently it hasn’t been studied.  That’s something I’d like to see.

I also want to mention that I have never been in a bookstore or library in, say, New Mexico or California, where the number of Spanish-speakers is much higher than in Tennessee, where I live.  Maybe in those states it’s more common to have larger sections of Spanish books since the customer base is larger.

Regardless, though, there are Spanish speakers everywhere in the US.  It’s the second-most-spoken language here after English, and as such, I feel like it should be given a tiny bit more than a measly three feet of shelf space in a bookstore.  Maybe more Spanish speakers would read and write if bookstores offered more than the same old Harry Potter translations and copies of Cien años de soledad in the Spanish section.  Maybe more people would learn it as a second language if they could read different types of books at different levels in Spanish.  Maybe brick and mortar bookstores could save themselves from going the way of Borders if they tapped into the Spanish-speaking market.  I don’t actually know if any of this would actually help anything (honestly it probably wouldn’t).  But I’d at least like to see some more effort.

For now, I’ll have to stick to reading through every small Spanish section I can find, and I’ll also try to find translations of works originally in English.  But I would truly love to see just half an aisle of Spanish books when I go into a bookstore or library.  I might have to take another trip out west.

Keeping Up My Spanish After Graduation

It’s officially one week till graduation. Aside from all the other things this means, it hit me this week that graduating means losing a set time and place to practice my Spanish every week. While I would love to get a job where I can use Spanish, I don’t know that that will be an option. So here’s how I’m planning on keeping up my skills. 

  1. Listening: there are a lot of Spanish telenovelas on Netflix. But I’ve found I don’t like that type of show. I’m more into crime thrillers than the over-the-top family and relationship dramas frequently used in telenovelas. So while I’ll keep trying Spanish TV shows and movies, I downloaded the BBC Mundo app so I can watch a video or two a day. (And I can read the news and culture stories as well.) I have also been exploring the Latin channels on Spotify, so by slowly developing a taste for Latin music I can practice my Spanish that way as well. 
  2. Reading: I love reading anyway, so consciously trying to add Spanish books into my reading list shouldn’t be too difficult. I’m looking forward to working my way through some Spanish classics as well as reading translated works I’ve already read in English. 
  3. Writing: This will be harder to practice without an outside party to check over my grammar. But I may try to write some fiction or even just journal in Spanish. And I’ve done enough papers in Spanish that I know which mistakes I’m prone to make. Maybe there’s a Spanish-language fan fic site I can find. That’s something I’ll have to look more into. 
  4. Translating: I don’t know that I’ll find myself doing this very often, but it may help me keep from forgetting specific vocabulary. Plus, I have a very new, very nice Spanish-English dictionary, so I might as well use it. I could translate a news article, or a blog post, or even a book chapter if I’m feeling ambitious. This would be something good to do when I’m bored and want something to focus on. 
  5. Speaking: This is the one skill I’m not sure how I will be able to practice. This is the skill I have the lowest confidence in, and I’m not really an outgoing person. Those two things combined might make it a little difficult to find a practice partner. I feel like there may be a conversation group somewhere in the city I’m moving to, but the homebody in me doesn’t know about that. So this will be something to work on. Maybe I can find a little old Spanish-language lady that needs a companion a few days a week? Who knows. We shall see!

Among the many challenges that come with graduating from college, this is one I feel most confident I can keep up. Spanish and languages are a passion of mine, so I’ll definitely be more likely to practice. And if I can make it a habit, I’ll have that many less problems if I ever do find myself in a job where I get to use Spanish frequently. Here’s to hoping!

Writing in a Foreign Language

 

I’ve always loved writing.  At my parents’ house, there are still boxes under my bed, full of notebooks I filled with half-written stories and ideas.  I have tons of files on my old computers and on my flash drive with more stories and essays.  I’ve changed my mind several times on what I like to write most, but I’ve never fallen out of love with writing.  I’ve done it my whole life, and I’m not planning on stopping anytime soon.

Since I’ve had so much practice with writing, especially for school, I like to think I’m fairly good at it.  Since I learned to write a five-paragraph essay, structured, written thought has come fairly easily for me.  When I first began writing serious papers, it took me awhile to get to the point I wanted to make.  I would have to go through several rounds of edits to shorten and clarify my thoughts.  But as I did it more and more often, it got easier.  Now, if an assignment requires an essay, I can crank out a pretty good paper within a few hours to a day.  While I might make a few changes afterward, I typically say all I need to say with relative ease.  (Of course, every piece of writing could use some editing.  But when I also have to block out time for other things, a few hours to a day for a fairly high-quality essay is pretty good.)

But that’s all for essays I write in English.  With Spanish, I’m finding it’s a different story.  Throughout my Spanish classes, I’ve had to write a ton of papers.  They started out short and simple, as ways to practice vocabulary, sentence structure, and specific grammar rules.  As I got farther along, they began to get more complex.  They became less about practicing the language and more about engaging with the culture.  I learned more vocabulary, and essays in Spanish started to get almost as easy as essays in English.

Almost is the key word here, though.  I got fooled into thinking I knew Spanish well enough to use the same one-day process I use for English papers.  So last weekend, that’s how I wrote two papers for my capstone — one Saturday, one Sunday, and done.  Then a few days later, I got them back from my faculty adviser, and while overall the papers were okay, my grammar was all over the place.  I figured out very quickly that I need to take a few steps back in my writing process for Spanish papers.  Ideally, here’s how it should go:

  1. I need to make a list of grammar mistakes I make often, using already-graded papers as a reference.
  2. Start the paper at least a week before the due date.  (This means I need to be diligent about finishing the books I’m supposed to be writing about on time, too.)
  3. Take one or two days to write it, and then let it sit for a day or two.
  4. Read back through the paper, fixing any glaring mistakes, and polishing it if need be.  Make sure I’ve put everything in the paper that is required.
  5. Go over it again, this time with my list of common mistakes, and fix those.
  6. Finally, either run through a grammar checker or have someone else look over it.  Or maybe even both.

It’s a much longer process than my one-and-done style.  But it will help me write better quality papers.  And I think that the more Spanish I read, the better my writing skills will get.  That’s a big part of how I learned to write well in English, after all.  It makes sense that it would work that way in Spanish.

Spanish: More Than a Language

Since I first mentioned my Spanish capstone project on this blog, it’s changed a bit.  Not drastically — my overall focus is still immigration, and I’m still reading a lot of books.  But even though I’m still fine-tuning my thesis statement, I’ve already learned something valuable.

For background: I’m white.  I grew up in a two-parent home.  Both my parents are college-educated, and they have always earned sufficient income to give me and my two siblings everything we need, plus extracurriculars such as 4H, music lessons, and summer camps.  Spanish language and culture has been an interest of mine since I was 8, and my parents had the means to allow me to learn.  Now, I’m about to graduate college with a Spanish degree, with a highly commendable command of the language.  I’m proud of this.  And I’m grateful.

More background: for my capstone, I’m mostly focusing on the work of Esmeralda Santiago.  Santiago, if you don’t know, is a Puerto Rican woman who moved with her family to the US when she was 13.  She did not speak much English when she arrived.  It was not her choice to move here, so unlike me, learning English wasn’t something she did for fun, or because it was interesting, or because she had dreams of being able to speak other languages.  Santiago learned English because she couldn’t have survived here without it.

It hit me, as I was reading Santiago’s two memoirs, that for me, Spanish is a luxury.

I have worked hard at learning Spanish.  I’ve worked hard for confidence and accuracy.  Languages come fairly naturally to me, but it hasn’t all been easy or fun.  I’ve continued my study of Spanish just as much to gain an advantage in the job market as I have because I enjoyed it.  But that is the difference between Santiago, and every other Spanish-speaking immigrant, and I — I had a choice.  I chose to study Spanish because I could, not because I had to.  And I was not thrown into the Spanish-speaking world before I was ready.

One of my old roommates was also a Spanish major.  She now works at a refugee resettlement organization, and teaches Spanish to kids after school.  She uses Spanish all day, every day.  Spanish, for her, is a talent and a passion, but also a way to do what she really wants to do, which is care for people.  While Spanish may have started as an interest for her, now it is entwined with her purpose.

Honestly, that is my goal too.  I want to be able to use Spanish in my daily life.  One, because I enjoy it, and I’ve spent a lot of time learning it, but also because it enables me to expand the circle of people to whom I can be useful.  Being able to speak Spanish opens me up to other parts of the world, and by extension those I’m connected with.

A few posts ago, I put up a graph of the results from a personality test I took.  I scored very high on the “dutiful” aspect, which makes sense.  When I realized that Spanish began as a luxury for me, I felt kind of spoiled.  But then I thought about Bill Gates — his asset, now, is that he is very wealthy, and he puts his money to good use through philanthropy.  While being able to speak a second language is a little different than being worth millions, I can try to turn my own luxury into something that is useful to the world as a whole.

What I’m Reading: Spanish Capstone Project

I have about 12 weeks until I graduate.  Which means I have about 12 weeks to finish 3 big projects and pass 2 other classes before I can walk across the stage in my cap and gown.  It seems like a ton of time and also like not much at all, especially when I think about the fact that for my Spanish capstone, I’m planning on reading 7 books (at least) and have so far finished 1.  But honestly, I’m not too stressed.  I’m making progress, and I’m on the right track, and I’m excited to begin really diving into this project.

The overall theme for my capstone is the immigration of Spanish-speakers into the US.  I don’t have a definite thesis yet, because I’ve only read one of my sources.  Also, this what-I’m-reading post will be a little different from the others because I haven’t read most of these books yet.  But I figured it would be a fun idea to briefly introduce my books here, and then once I’ve finished my project, I’ll do a reprise post on what I thought about them and how useful they were to me for my project.


Books I’m Definitely Reading

Cuando era puertorriqueñaThis book is the one I’ve finished, and it’s a memoir about growing up in Puerto Rico and then having to move to New York.  Santiago is the child of parents who fight more often than not, and who must provide for eight children.  Family stress and the stress of growing up are magnified by having to move to New York just when she feels she’s beginning to get a hold on life in Puerto Rico.  But interspersed in these struggles are the stories of a mother who would do anything for her children, and a girl who got herself out of Brooklyn all on her own.

Resultado de imagen para casi una mujerThis is the sequel to Cuando era puertorriquena, and it details Santiago’s life from her teenage years to adulthood.  During her struggle to figure out who she is — Puerto Rican? American? both? — Santiago helps translate her mother through the welfare offices and takes on prestigious roles at her performing arts high school.

Resultado de imagen para la otra cara de americaRamos, an executive at Univision, has written essays and collected interviews from immigrants to the US.  Told in an editorial, persuasive style, Ramos sheds light on the reality of those “living in the shadows” and reveals just how vital they are to US society.

Resultado de imagen para vivir en dos idiomas

 

Alma Flor Ada is a renowned Cuban-American author and professor who writes children’s books, poetry, and novels.  Vivir en dos idiomas is her memoir, detailing her life, which has been spent mostly not in Cuba.

 

AResultado de imagen para la casa en mango streetlmost everyone has heard of The House on Mango Street.  It is one of the most famous coming-of-age novels there is.  I’ve skimmed the book a few times, and honestly, have not loved it.  But I feel I might appreciate it more within the context of this project.  It’s not quite a memoir, like the others, but Cisneros did draw heavily on her growing-up years to craft this novel, so it’s still a good candidate for my project.

Resultado de imagen para a cup of water under my bed

 

Another memoir about growing up Latina in America, this book adds a new dimension in that Hernandez is also bisexual.  It details her growing up years and her struggle not only to find the balance between two cultures, but also to maintain family ties while not hiding all of who she is.

 

WResultado de imagen para the distance between us reyna grandehen she was little, and living in Mexico, Grande’s father left for the US without her, her siblings, or her mother.  Her memoir tells the story of virtually losing one parent, and then regaining him, and a new home, when her father finally sends for her.

 

 

Once I have read these books and have a better idea of what they are about, I’ll link back to this post and review them again.  I’ll be honest; judging by the one I have read and the others I’ve flipped through, I have high expectations for all of them.


Books I Probably Won’t Use for My Capstone but Want to Read Anyway

Resultado de imagen para atravesando fronterasThis is Ramos’ own memoir about moving from Mexico to the US.  I know I like his writing style, and admire him as a person.  But there are several reasons I probably won’t use it.  For one, I already have seven books to read, and for two, this book is quite a bit longer than most of my others.  Finally, I realized that all the rest of my books are by women (besides the other one by Ramos, but in that he interviews men and women), and given the difference in countries of origin I already have, I’d rather keep my mostly-female-author pattern going.

Resultado de imagen para morir en el intentoWhen I initially picked this, I thought it was going to be more like academic nonfiction.  Instead, it’s the story of 19 immigrants who died on their way to the US in 2003.  I’m sure it’s a tragic story, and definitely one that should be spread.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t fit with the other books I’ve chosen.  But that’s not going to stop me from reading it when I finish my project.

Resultado de imagen para sonar en cubano

 

This is another coming-of-age novel, and honestly, I don’t know much about it.  I didn’t look into it as much as the others, because I changed my focus from novels to memoirs.  But I like coming-of-age stories, so this will be going on the TBR as well.

Fall 2016 Goals Update #2

Another month, another update.  Without further ado…

Goals for Employment

  1. Apply for entry-level jobs in marketing.  Still doing this!  The day I wrote this post, I actually had my first interview ever for a big-girl job.  I think it went pretty well, and I am excited about the possibilities with that company.  So we shall see!
  2. Utilize university resources.  Check — I went to a resume workshop, both to polish up my own resume and to give a COB Ambassador presence.  I think my resume looks quite a bit better than it did.  Also, we’re doing mock interviews in my Spanish class, so that will be awesome practice.

Goals for Extracurriculars

  1. Video Production Team: Work at least one game per sport.  I’ve worked a lot of soccer, a couple volleyball games, and am signed up for almost every basketball game we have in November.  It’ll be busy, but basketball is really fun, and the paycheck will definitely be nice.
  2. COB Ambassadors: Work one event a month.  This month I worked the Majors Fair on preview day, and the resume workshop also counted as an event.  Coming up next month the COB will be hosting its own career fair, so I’ll probably be involved with that somehow.
  3. COB Ambassadors: project manage one project before graduation.  Still working on this.

Goals for Daily Life

  1. Don’t add unnecessary stress.  This is surprisingly still going quite well.  I got really bad road rage driving to see my family a few weeks ago, but honestly that was warranted.  There’s just something about vehicles that make people do stupid things.  And I know I need to not let things bother me that I can’t change, but sometimes that’s just how it goes.
  2. Cut back on buying coffee.  *closes eyes*  It’s kinda weird how my list jumps straight from 1 to 3…oh well.
  3. Make time for friends.  The semester has gotten a bit busier than it had been, so I’ve slacked off on this.  But a few friends and I are planning a Netflix night next week, and another friend’s birthday is this month as well, so that should remedy that.
  4. Make time for myself.  Again, class work has started to creep into my free time, but I still find some time to read or watch a show or two.

And finally, the goal of goals:

  1. Enjoy senior year.  So far, so good.  I’m very tired of being school — I would much rather being doing something than sitting passively in class all day, but the end is near and I’m trying to remember to relish the time I have left at college.

This semester has gone by so fast.  Here we are at the end of October, and I feel like September just started.  My very last advisement is coming up, and graduation is starting to feel so close!  I’ve started a list of what I want to do and get involved in once I graduate.  Really moving out on my own is so exciting to think about.  Here’s to the rest of my second-to-last semester!  Next time I post a goals update, I’ll be studying for finals.

Why Jane the Virgin is One of the Best Shows Ever

Today is October 17, and it’s a great day because season 3 of Jane the Virgin has begun.  I started watching this show in the spring, and honestly have never devoured a show faster.  In honor of this momentous occasion, here is why Jane the Virgin is one of the best shows ever made.

  1. Nuanced, relatable characters.  All, and I mean all, of the characters on this show are incredibly realistic.  They all make good choices and bad choices.  Not one of them is a stereotype.  All of them have traits that you would see in a real, actual person.  All of them have contradictions and baggage and unique personalities.  Bad characters turn me off to a show faster than anything else, but Jane the Virgin nails amazing characters.
  2. No filler episodes.  In case you weren’t aware, Jane the Virgin is modeled off the typical Spanish telenovela, or soap opera.  It employs insane, soap-opera-typical plot twists to give the telenovela impression, but also maintains realistic plot points as well — crime rings mingle with first-time parenting, for example.  Because of the dramedy, million-different-plotline nature of the show, there are no “filler” episodes like you would find in a normal drama.  Every single episode moves some aspect of the story right along. 
  3. Spanish!  Because most of the characters are Latino, there’s a good amount of Spanish in the episodes (with subtitles, of course), which I love.  Also, most of the actors are Latino, which they should be, and it’s awesome!  If you haven’t heard of Gina Rodriguez, who plays Jane, go follow her on social media because she is an incredibly cool person and an excellent role model.
  4. Creative filming/storytelling.  Jane is a daydreamer, and if that’s not fun to work with as a director, I don’t know what is.  Every few episodes features a daydreaming scene with fun costumes and scenarios.  On top of this, the show is set in 2016, so social media features widely and texts and tweets show on screen as the characters type or read them.  Finally, the narrator interacts as a viewer of the show and it is hilariously entertaining.

If that’s not enough to hook you, you are a lost cause you should just go watch the first episode because then you will be.  The show sucks you in like a black hole, and I couldn’t be happier.  Now excuse me while I start watching season 3.

Photo source

3 Lessons I Learned From Being a Tutor

Tutors are everywhere in American culture.  Almost everyone I knew growing up, including me, had a tutor at one point or another — music lessons and ACT prep were as common as dirt among my group of peers.  As a society, we are very focused on individual achievement, so it makes sense that we have tutors to hone our skills and make us the best people that we can be.  What we don’t realize is how much our tutors learn from us, too.

I have a (very) little experience being a tutor.  The summer before I started college I taught a beginner flute student, and last semester I was asked to tutor a beginner Spanish student here at Tech.  I knew both would be difficult, but I didn’t realize how inadequate I would feel.  Through teaching, I learned a lot of important lessons about teaching, business, and myself.

1.  Teachers aren’t responsible for output.

I am very results driven.  I love to cross items off lists.  If I spend two hours working on a project and don’t finish it, it bothers me a bit that I can’t mark it out of my planner yet, because if I don’t acknowledge accomplishments somehow, that time feels wasted.  I really had to rethink this last semester when I had my Spanish student.  Foreign languages aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, and I understand that they are difficult.  But even when I did my best to quiz my student on vocab and explain weird grammar concepts, her grades didn’t improve much.  For the first month or so, this really bothered me.  I felt that I was failing her as a teacher, and thought that maybe I didn’t know as much as I thought I did.

I talked to my mom about it, because she has been a tutor for years.  She helped me realize that I wasn’t responsible for my student’s grades.  My job was to do my best, and the rest was on her.  There was only so much quizzing and explaining I could do in an hour a week, and then it was up to her to study and quiz herself.  Teachers can explain stuff till they’re blue in the face, but students are responsible for their own learning.

2.  Boundaries are extremely important

Last semester, I really wanted to be a good tutor.  I wanted to make myself as available as possible, and that desire led me to hold several extra sessions without asking for payment.  Part of this was because, as I said above, I felt bad that my student’s grades weren’t improving, and I didn’t feel that I deserved to be paid.  But this meant that I lost hours of valuable homework time during one of my busiest semesters ever.  By the time I realized I should have been compensated for my time, I had already set a precedent.

If I ever decide to take on another Spanish student, I won’t be so altruistic.  Tutoring, like any other service, is a business, and I needed to separate my own emotions from the service I was offering.  If there is a next time, I need to be sure to mention up front whether or not I’m willing to fit extra sessions in, and need to explicitly mention that I expect to be paid for every session, which most people, I think, would find reasonable.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that every time someone benefits from my Spanish knowledge, I expect to be paid.  I’m more than happy to help a friend with an assignment or read over a paper.  However, this was an instance where I needed to view tutoring as work.  I wouldn’t have taken an extra shift at a regular job for free, so I shouldn’t have tutored for free either.

3.  No one ever stops learning.

When I first took on my flute student in high school, I had 9 years of my own private flute lessons under my belt.  I wasn’t the best player by any means, but I could definitely hold my own in a band or as a soloist.  But when I started teaching my beginner student, I realized there was a lot I had forgotten.

The very first lesson I taught was a disaster.  I had trouble filling up the half hour because I didn’t know what to do or say.  I showed my student a few things, but I realized I didn’t remember enough about being a beginner to teach.  That week, I went back to my own teacher for pointers, and she reminded me of several things to look out for — good posture, finger positioning, and embouchure techniques that had become second nature to me.

This happened with my Spanish student, as well.  I was used to using a lot of different verb tenses, for example, but had to remember how to explain when and why each was used.  I also had to relearn a lot of vocabulary that I had been taught, but had not used in a long time.  Both of these experiences were very humbling, and it reminded me that just being good at something doesn’t make me an expert.  Albert Einstein once said,

If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.

I don’t know if I will ever tutor again.  I enjoyed it, but there are so many other things I want to try to do with my life.  However, my small experience as a tutor has definitely given me a whole new appreciation for teachers everywhere.