Good teachers learn from their mistakes. Great teachers learn from others' mistakes.
~ Reed Markham, Ph.D.
Breakfast: Special K
A Streetcar Named Desire
NOT AT ALL INTUITIVE
30 May 2004
When I left my job at Sutter, under less than pleasant circumstances, I knew it would be a long time before I would feel confident enough to look for another job. I was also still grieving David and it wasnt long before I was grieving Paul too. Job hunting was not the first order of priority.
But the story that I gave to people who asked why I had left Sutter was that I was going to start my own business. And I really intended to do it.
I had been helping totally computer illiterate friends get comfortable with their computers and I discovered that I seemed to be good at it. At least people told me that they appreciated the help and that they actually began to learn some things.
The thing I learned early on, in my very first experiences with computers (that would be 1981, when I went to work for The Lamplighters, putting names and addresses into a database program. This was pre-PC and before I bought my own first computer, an Apple Iic, which didnt even have a hard drive--I hadnt even heard of a hard drive! Nobody knew about the Internet then either)... anyway... the thing I learned early on was that you cant teach someone by saying "push this, push that, push that and type." At least I couldnt learn that way.
Thats the way the Lamplighter secretary taught me how to enter names in the data base. He sloughed aside my questions about why was pushing this and pushing that--later I decided it was because he didnt know himself.
Over the years, Ive managed to teach myself enough so that Im competent with what Im doing. For awhile I was ahead of the pack, keeping up with all the new stuff, but when youre a stay at home Mom and most of your computer work is pretty basic stuff, the technology rapidly got to a point where there was no way I was ever going to need it in my wildest dreams, so I quickly got left behind in the technology explosion.
Still, the things that I know, I know well and most people my age who are just now discovering that computers arent the spawn of Satan and might actually be helpful and maybe even fun dont need to know all the technical stuff. They need to know the basics: how to turn it on. How to turn it off. How to feel comfortable that its not going to blow up in your face. What to feed your mouse. And other really, really simple things.
I started giving lessons and even got paid a few times for lessons. Sometimes it seemed like I was robbing my clients because sometimes thats really all I taught them: how to turn it on, how to turn it off, and what to feed the mouse. But they seemed grateful and managed to have enough confidence to begin playing around a bit, confident that nothing was going to blow up.
I was going to call my business Double Click and even had cards and brochures printed up. A friend put them on display for me, but about the time I was ready to really get going full out with the business, the Senior Center started offering exactly the same kind of class to exactly the same clientele, only offering it for free. Why pay me $20 an hour when you could get the same thing for free at the Senior Center? So my great idea died aborning.
I still get the occasional friend who wants help with his or her computer and today was one of those days. She and I have worked together in a couple of offices but havent seen each other in awhile and she remembered that I did computer instruction. In fact, years ago, her husband had been one of my clients years ago, but she was finding it difficult to get help from him because he was so impatient with her and she truly needed to learn it all from the ground up.
It was fun getting together, just for the social part of it. The first hour and a half I was there, we had iced tea, caught up on each others lives, and chatted about what our friends are doing now, I bonded with her dog (a lovely black lab).
Eventually we made our way into the back office, where I drooled a bit over the sleek slim-line monitor and "do everything but wash windows" printer / scanner / fax machine.
When she sat down with her notebook of things she wanted to ask me, I remembered what its like to know nothing in a world where people know everything. We started with the basics: how do I find the e-mail? what does it mean when the name of the e-mail is in bold? why is that block blue when all the rest arent?
I discovered that she has no e-mail address of her own, so set her up with a Yahoo account and took her through the basics of how you find Yahoo, how you get to your e-mail once youre there, how to compose e-mail, how to put names in the addressbook, how to send e-mail to more than one person at a time.
We went back out of Yahoo and back in again until I was sure she would be able to find it once I left.
I showed her Google. Shed heard of it, but had no idea what it was for. I showed her the magic of Google and she was thrilled with Froogle, since shes an inveterate shopper.
When we had pretty much covered as much as I thought she could absorb on the Internet we moved on to the next thing. "I need to learn Word for my new job," she said. "Now what is that?"
When youve been dealing with word processing in one form or another for what seems like over half your life, its surprising to discover that there are still people who know nothing about it, who have no concept of a "program" versus "the Internet," and who really need to start from the most rudimentary pre-basics.
I thought I had done pretty well, having her discover for herself that if she highlighted various icons they would tell her what function they performed. By the time we finished, she could start a blank document, center text, change centering to left justified or right justified and I think she may remember how to put something in bold, underline it, or put it in italics.
But it was her last question that made me realize just exactly how patient you need to be with people who are rank beginners. I had typed something into a URL to show her a web page and since I was typing off to the side and the monitor was in front of her, I couldnt see clearly and made a typo. I corrected the typo and she stopped me...
"Now you just did that thing when you were typing. You changed a letter. How do I do that?"
This whole thing, for all of us who are computer people, is so deeply engrained in us by now that, even knowing how basic this instruction was to be today, it didnt enter my head that I would need to show her how to make a correction. The difference between the "backspace" and the "delete" key. How to position the cursor if you discover a typo in a word that youve already typed, etc.
I suspect that I learned more today than my friend did. I learned that when you are teaching someone how to become comfortable with a computer, you dont start with anything more complicated than the most basic stuff you can think of.
I told her that Id be happy to come back and work with her another day. At this point, shes somewhat overwhelmed with all the new stuff she has to remember and I very much remember being in that position where you dont know enough to know what you dont know, so even though you really know nothing, you cant find a way to formulate an intelligent question so that you can learn.
I figure that by the time shes worked with Yahoo and with Word for a few weeks, shell have a lot more questions. But I hope that at least by now she knows how to turn the machine on and off, what to feed her mouse, and how to make a simple correction in a word.