What I learned this summer

               There aren’t many regular readers to this blog, so you might not have noticed that I took the summer off from posting here. Not by choice, mind you. I love writing about things I discover online or sharing ideas or recommendations that I think will be of interest to my few dedicated readers (I know you’re out there, so I’m sorry that I didn’t write anything for two months!). But this summer, I did something that was so intense and took up so much of my time and energy, that I did not have any time to research AND post; I taught leather craft at summer camp. (My running joke all summer was that between my librarian skills and my leather craft knowledge, I was a 16th century renaissance man.)

               I spent eight weeks cutting and preparing leather for student projects, and learned a fascinating new trade in the meantime. Prior to this, I had never worked with leather, so I had to learn everything I could … and fast. My employers tried to get the prior teacher to train me, but she was unavailable. They also had a company called Chaps & Chains (I’m not making this up) that offered to train me, but I didn’t get their contact information in time, and I decided to take matters into my own hands.

               While unpacking the supplies for the leather craft class, I discovered a number of books like Leathercraft for Beginners and catalogs for the Tandy Leather Company. Naturally I read through these printed texts, and learned quite a bit about leather. When I was done reading, I turned to the internet to see what the books were talking about and discovered dozens of great videos that demonstrated how to prepare and work with leather. Here are two videos, so you can visualize how I spent my summer:

               So, what is the point of this post, anyway? Well, I did want to explain my absence (though I wish it were something more exciting than teaching leathercraft at summer camp). I also needed to get back to writing here, and summer camp is officially over now, so I can’t use that as an excuse. More than anything, though, I wanted to share something I learned (or re-learned) with you, and here it is.

               I found it odd, and even beautiful, that I could learn how to do something like working with leather, that has been around for thousands of years, by using the internet; our latest and greatest achievement. I learned everything I needed to know about working with leather (how to use mallets, stamping tools, rotary punches, slickers, bevelers, swivel knives, heavy stems; how to set snap, buckles, rivets, pyramid points and conchos, and much more) from the internet. What made me a good leather craft guy (as some of the campers still called me after 8 weeks) was that I cared about what I was doing, and I used the incredible power of our connected world to teach myself something new.

               This revelation made me wonder, why do we still need schools, if you can learn anything via the internet? Why all the fuss around September? I think it has to do with why I was really a good leather craft guy, and the reason is because I was a teacher at summer camp. I was a teacher first, and a leather guy second. I was excited about what I knew (it was all so new to me) and I wanted the kids to know I was excited for them (even though it was the 4th or 5th or 6th year of leather for some kids). I also cared about every project that every child was working on … believe me, you cut four hundred strips of leather and you will care about what becomes of every inch of that leather.

               I don’t mean to be obscure. What I re-learned this summer is that it’s really hard to be a good (or great, which is what I aim for) teacher. It takes a lot of work to know stuff, and to teach anything to anyone. It also takes patience, caring, compassion and love. As teachers, we need to love what we’re teaching, and the students we’re teaching.

               Thank you for stopping by, and I’ll see you in September.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2010. All rights reserved.

Ideas for the Summer

          I originally intended to write a post (like a month ago) about great summer jobs for teens, and I was researching summer jobs, thinking I might be able to help someone find meaningful employment this summer. I did come across a handful of interesting articles that had some good ideas, like Allison Doyle’s Teen Job Search article  from About.com, but I didn’t like much of what I read, because the truth is (as everyone who is not a teenager knows) we are going through some difficult economic times, and there aren’t many good jobs waiting for high school students. So I decided that I would share my ideas for what teenagers should do this summer if you don’t find yourself working for pay.

  • READ: Like you didn’t expect this from a librarian. Teens are not spending enough time reading literature, and it shows. One recent author, Nicholas Carr suggests that not all reading is alike. Reading online is not like sitting down with a book. I recommend that all teens grab a hold of their school’s summer reading list and read EVERY book listed for their grade. If you don’t think you can be that ambitious, then read just one of the recommended books from the list and spend the rest of your time reading DAILY through your collection of vampire or wizard or baseball or (fill-in-the-blank) books. Reading should be a daily part of your life, and you should find a quiet place to practice reading for at least a half hour a day. Besides training yourself to be a better reader through the daily practice, you will also expand your vocabulary and see what good writing looks like.
  • DEVELOP A GOOD HABIT: Seriously, it may be a myth that it only takes about three weeks to develop any habit, good or bad, but setting goals three weeks at a time may not be such a bad idea. Pick one positive thing that you’ve always wanted to do (play guitar, paint, write, run) and start doing it. Do it seriously and furiously and make it your mission for at least three weeks, and you can begin to rewire your brain to love doing that thing. The beauty part about developing good habits, is that they often have other positive serendipitous benefits that come with them. Start running, and you’ll probably sleep better and feel more alert during the day without “monster” drinks. Start writing, and you might discover that you’ll learn things about yourself that you never knew as you express your feelings on paper.
  • CLEAN/ FIX SOMETHING: The world is full of broken and unkempt places and things. Just look around you and find something that needs your help being restored and refurbished. Get some sandpaper and find the wood beneath an old painted chair. Get some paint and make a room or hallway in your house or building look like new. Find an old radio, a broken bicycle, a collection of books that need mending. There are plenty of sites that will help you with your project, including YouTube videos. Leave the world in better shape than you found it. 
  • CREATE A PHOTO ALBUM: It probably sounds really quaint to a generation that lives instantaneously on the internet. The idea of a photo album is like recommending Gutenberg hire a scribe to prepare his scrolls … (too much?) But a photo album is still a really valuable personal keepsake. When I was a teenager, we only had 24 chances per roll of film to capture a moment. Nowadays digital technology means you not only have hundreds of chances to get a good picture, you can also crop and edit photos to make them look better than they actually looked when you took them. The best part of a physical photo album is that it is all yours, and will still be here even after Friendster, Classmates, MySpace, LinkdIn and Facebook have been replaced by the next great digital site.
  • VOLUNTEER YOUR TIME: During hard economic times like these, paid work is extremely hard to come by. There are still plenty of opportunities for hard-working, ambitious kids, however, who can give a few hours of their free time each week to help non-profits and other community based organizations. Though you may not make any money for your efforts, you will be rewarded with real world experience and an extra line for your college application and resume. Most importantly, you will make a human contact who you may be able to use as a personal reference in the future or who may be able to hire you for a paid position in better financial times. … And think of the good work you’ll be doing.

Hope you find something worthwhile and I’ll see you all tomorrow.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2010. All rights reserved.