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August 4, 2008 / Maleesha Kovnesky

Jobs – My Favorite Job

I haven’t had that many jobs.  I’m married to a guy who has had a lot of jobs.  I swear, every time I try to paint/repair/trim/construct something he’s right there with a hammer or a brush to say, “Step aside, I used to get paid for this.”  Come to think of it, there’s a sentence that would be pretty funny to interject before certain moments.  But I digress. 

I haven’t had that many jobs, but one stands out from the pack as a favorite.  It wasn’t my first job…the waitressing job where I spilled hot prime rib all over an eight year old girl at my very first table  (I will have to discuss this later…I spent most of the next hour crying and hiding in the break room).  It wasn’t the next job where I was a grocery bagger for a chain called “Buttrey’s” either.  That would have been a pretty enjoyable job, if every other paycheck didn’t go entirely to union dues, or if the shift manager didn’t have a bad habit of talking about his…adventures. 

My favorite job was definitely the gig where I taught at a community college.  I was single and enlisted in the military at the time (read: extra, super poor) so having a second job was a good way to make car payments, or eat non-chow hall food.  I got the job through a friend.  I had to teach two or three evenings a week, and on the weekends, at the community college in a mid-sized North Carolina city. 

One thing they don’t tell you when you sign up to do this:  senior citizens in North Carolina can go back to school for free.  This means that the classrooms are full of older people.  This is pretty awesome…unless you are teaching computer courses.  I was new to the college so I got to teach all of the classes no one else wanted to. 

One of these courses was called “Introduction to PCs.”  NO ONE wanted to teach this class.  Imagine holding up a mouse, clicking it, and saying something like “This is a mouse.  Click.  Now you try it!”  Imagine answering questions all day like this:

Them: “What’s this box again?”

Me: “That’s the monitor.”

Them:  “I thought it was the computer.”

Me: “No, that’s the monitor.  That big box looking thing is the computer.”

Them: “What’s this again?”

Me: “A monitor.”

That’s pretty much what it was like, at least at first.  But things are what you make of them.  While teaching the esteemed seniors of Onslow County, I found vast reserves of patience that I didn’t know I had.  Some of the students needed more help than others.  One lady was so annoying that I couldn’t understand what in the world she was doing in this class.  Every time she tried to click the only part of the mouse that wasn’t a button, I wanted to jump out the window and make a mad dash to the Popeye’s across the street (to fill out an application).  But on the outside I answered her repetitive questions patiently and made sure to do all the demonstrating that she needed. 

After class, when all the other students had left, she came up to me and thanked me.  She told me that this was her third try at the same course, and that the last instructor had no patience with her and made her feel like a burden.  She was very appreciative that I was helping her, because she had almost given up.  I felt a lot better after that, and a little bit ashamed that I had been secretly wanting to ram my head against the wall because of her.

The best student in the class was an eighty-nine year old lady who had lived in North Carolina since her husband had passed away in the eighties.  She took to that computer like a bird to the air.  I was amazed, and she could tell too, because she explained herself.  “Did you know that they used to use punch cards?” she asked me.  “It’s true.  I worked in a big bank with the first computer system they had bought, and I got to program the punch cards.  But then I got married.  My husband was in the Navy, so I quit my job and that was that.”  While I was thanking my lucky stars that I had been born after this era, she added, “I always wanted to get back into computers, but married girls didn’t do those kind of things.”  Yet there she was, eighty nine years old, clicking away at the ol’ two button mouse.  Amazing.

There was an old man in the class…I say “old” but he was one of these old guys with the white hair and the bifocals, but what I think of as the “sparkly eye.”  Oh, he had the “sparkly eye.”  It was simple to imagine this guy at twenty five, chasing girls and bringing flowers to his mother.  Well, all “sparkly eyes” wanted to do was talk about hackers.  He knew what hackers were, and what they could do, and he was fascinated.  “You gotta have the virus protection,” he would advise the rest of the class.  “And you gotta get yourself behind a fire thingy, too.  Right?”  Then he’d look at me with great expectations and I would explain quickly the concept of a firewall while trying to steer the discussion back to How To Plug In Your Keyboard.   He derailed discussions on power saving techniques to hostile WAN takeovers.  He was like a little kid talking about the neighborhood cowboys and Indians.

Finally, the ten weeks of my first Introduction To PCs was coming to a close.  The last day of class, I got PRESENTS!  My class had brought me gifts.  I couldn’t believe it.  It was like they all got together at the pinochle tourney and plotted it out.  One guy brought me a whittled lighthouse that he had made years before.  One lady brought me a beautiful pink-yellow rose from her garden.  Another lady had given me something like fifty coupons to her son’s car wash in town.  I know, I know.  It would have been YOUR favorite job ever too, had someone given you fifty coupons to a car wash.  But it wasn’t the gifts that made the job so wonderful.  It was the sincere appreciation.  

I don’t even know that I appreciated it as much then as I do now.  See, later jobs came along.  Once I hit the five year mark at my last job, I got a bronze plaque and a pen with my initials on it.  The cold metal of the plaque was no match for that whittled light house, even though they managed to spell my name right.  The pen was nice too, but I’m really more of a Bic person.  It didn’t come close to a well tended, handpicked rose that came from someone’s Southern garden. 

That teaching gig happened ten years ago.  I know that a good chunk of those students are no longer here.  I sure hope that some of them went on to e-mail their grandchildren and friends with the tips that they learned in that Introduction to PCs class.  And I wish there was some way to tell their families how much fun I had with them, and that I’ll never forget them either.

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13 Comments

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  1. Luiza Warren / Mar 14 2012 5:32 am

    Well, it is true that while the rest of us are cramped into cube farms, a few lucky people earn their livings by shopping for designer duds, eating ice cream or traveling the world. As for me, my favorite occupation is a concert promoter. Frankly speaking, it’s rather hard to get bored when you’re a concert promoter, because it’s your job to create the entertainment. Concert promoters are born to bring concerts to cities around the country, selecting the cities and venues, selling sponsorships and working out all of the logistics from the number of police officers needed to the locations. I adore this job…

  2. Adina / Nov 20 2011 10:58 am

    Sa va fut in gura!

  3. cherikooka / Aug 7 2008 2:34 pm

    I’ve taught computers to almost every age group…and I was always happily surprised when someone of advancing years was a natural. It gives truth to the idea that not everyone has a knack for computers — you either do or you don’t, regardless of age.

  4. msmollie / Aug 7 2008 7:35 am

    I’m still laughing at “Buttery’s”.

    Here’s the Wikipedia entry for Buttrey’s!

  5. Miss Virtual Reality / Aug 6 2008 12:24 pm

    I know the feeling about talking to older people about computers, but I am glad that you learned something from that job. I think that would make it rewarding.

  6. Allison / Aug 6 2008 4:42 am

    What a great story! I am truly smitten with you 89-yr. old star pupil.

    A few weeks ago, I had to talk a man (not that old either, early 50’s) through attaching a file to his email by phone. I seriously wanted to start banging my head on my desk. I could not do it. Patience in such matters is a gift- hats off to you (and to everybody else who wants to bang their heads when they have to help me with the computer)!

  7. kaylee / Aug 5 2008 10:15 pm

    I havent had no jobs
    😛

  8. curlywurlygurly / Aug 5 2008 7:09 am

    even though it’s a lot of hard work, i love being an educator. i work in a private high school by day and teach ESL (english as a second language) at my local library a few nights a week. i worked corporate for 8 years before teaching and it was loveless and thankless. 🙂

    That sounds like a great setup. Loveless and thankless, yes, you are right about that!

  9. bluesuit12 / Aug 5 2008 6:50 am

    This experience sounds awesome and I’m envious! I taught Spanish to some Mayan Indians in Guatemala and we had to start with the extreme basics like these are letters. This letter makes this sound, now you try. I couldn’t believe how much patience I had with them and it was so hard for me to leave when it was over because I loved them all so much.

    What a challenge that must have been. But what a great life adventure and something to remember.

  10. crisitunity / Aug 5 2008 5:45 am

    You = saint.

    When I was in college I tutored a seven-year-old boy who couldn’t read. I tried really hard with him, but I just couldn’t make anything stick; week to week, he would forget everything we’d worked on. By the fifth or sixth session, I just wanted to shake him and scream “WHY CAN’T YOU READ??”

    I don’t think I would have made much of a success trying to teach computers to the elderly. I am not equipped with this kind of patience. This is yet another reason why I think it would be a terrible idea for me to have children.

    I loved this post. It’s so great when you get literal rewards from doing something that seems thankless and irritating.

    Not so much a saint…I do have a soft spot for older people (unless they are driving). It’s the children I have no patience for. This is why I now have two of my own. Someone up there is laughing.

  11. Ian / Aug 5 2008 5:06 am

    I haven’t had my favorite job yet. But when I finally land an agent and a book deal, then I think I know what it will be…

    Well…I’m with ya there. Has AKA called you back yet?!?!

  12. morethananelectrician / Aug 5 2008 4:01 am

    Instead of trashing old computers, we set up and elderly person with email access adn get them “connected”. Most of the time, they say that they don’t want it…wouldn’t use it, but when we finally talk them into it, it ends up with them emailing us all sorts of things.

    It allows them to stay connected to their families and friends in the technology era.

    We do this one at a time, but a whole class is amazing.

    It was really good preparation for a few years later when my mom bought a computer. Somehow, teaching your mom how to use a mouse is several hundred degrees more painful than a classroom of oldies-but-goodies.

  13. Pammy Girl / Aug 4 2008 9:55 pm

    That’s fabulous! Your patience level gave you something you never imagined and I know that experience is something you’ll always treasure.

    I taught at an alternative high school last year… the school where all but two of the kids had police records and this was their last chance before they stayed at the pokey full time. There was quite a bit of violence and a lot of drugs but I loved teaching them. I decided right away that if I had respect for them and not treat them like second class citizens, they’d respect me too. That wasn’t always the case but most of the time it was. It was the best job.

    Very cool…something that not everyone is cut out for. All jobs should be as rewarding. And teachers should get paid more. Or at least summers off. Oh, wait…

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