It all started when I became a teacher in 1994. I was assigned a classroom that had five MAC computers installed. Back in the day, very few of us understood how to work a computer, let alone a MAC. America Online was brand new and the Internet was largely text heavy with very few graphics. Forget about moving images, sound, and video, there was no such thing as Road Runner or DSL. We were using our landlines to dial into the internet. It was slow and unreliable. Of course, we didn’t know any better. One thing’s for sure. The World Wide Web became the world’s addiction. Society’s guilty pleasure.
I’ve always had acuity for electronics. As a kid, I installed my own car stereos, amplifiers, and equalizers. I never seemed to need the directions. I simply understood how to set a VCR, work remote controls, program remotes and VCR’s, hook up entire stereo systems, and use computers.
On the first day of my first year as a teacher, I sat for hours after school just exploring the MAC’s in my classroom. I looked in every folder, tried to click on every file and icon. I learned about software and hardware, floppy disks, and let’s not forget the mouse. The computer quickly became a very important element of my professional life. I was one of the first to use an electronic grade book using MS EXCEL. I was the first to create my own banners, signs, and notices using Print Shop Deluxe. I was the first to integrate the computer into daily instruction. I was the first to train colleagues on how to use the computer in the classroom. There were a lot of firsts during my inaugural year as an educator.
I became very well-versed on the MAC and began feeling as if I should have a PC of my own (Remember when PC meant personal computer?). When it was time for me to purchase one of my own, I naturally went looking for a MAC. Unfortunately, they were far more expensive than my little tiny salary of $26, 850.00 could handle. Even in 1995, my finances were busting at the seams on that money. On the counter next to the beautiful Apple was this Hewlett Packard. It was relatively inexpensive in comparison. My salary handled it. Well actually, I think I financed it.
After four years with Dade County Schools, budget cuts left me unemployed so I decided to move to Los Angeles. The year was 1998.
Upon moving into my new West Hollywood apartment, I purchased a brand new Gateway PC. For those of you who remember, they came in a box that resembled a cow. It was white with black cow-like spots all over it. It ran upwards of 2000 bucks. I think I financed that one too. Wow, how things change! The only thing I finance today is my Ford.
In the summer of ’98, I found a part time job at an online start up called US Search.com. The CEO started a people finding company in his garage using computers and the internet. By this time, businesses were enjoying the high speed internet provided by the T1 line. This was when I learned what an‘IT’ guy was. That part time gig quickly became a full time job, and teaching school was far from my mind.
I was promoted to Corporate Trainer and surprisingly, enjoyed teaching adults. They are completely different kind of learners. Adults are harder to teach new concepts, as we are more habitual. Most of the training was concentrated on the use of the computer and the software needed to perform the job. To most of the trainees, the computer was a scary foreign object that might bite if they got too close to it.
As the Millennium rolled around, the economy was on the decline. The internet bubble was bursting and many online companies went under. US Search began to cut back on spending, and the first department cut is always the one that doesn’t garner concrete revenue; the training department and ultimately, me.
I was now out of work and looking. Jobs were scarce and I was quickly burning through my savings. I began to hold yard sale after yard sale, just selling off all my gadgets and toys. I was thinking that my time in Los Angeles was coming to an end and returning to Miami was inevitable. I was hitting bottom financially, and I was losing my spirit.
My neighbor’s mother happened to drive up for a visit with her daughter when she noticed my almost brand new Gateway PC sitting on its box in the driveway. She made an offer I couldn’t afford to refuse. I threw in the PC table and free lessons for as long as she needed. She was ecstatic and I was saved for another month. Little did I know.
Twice a week I visited with Lois. She was a willing student and she seemed to like the computer. I taught her to use AOL, email, and chat. She learned to browse the web and shop on Amazon.com. She created greeting cards and played the LA Times crossword on line. She was so elated that she began to tell all of her friends about me. Many of her friends were given computers by their kids, but had not even opened the box. They were literally scared of the computer. I began seeing Lois’ friends, charging only $25.00 per hour. I wanted to keep my fee low so my clients could afford to have lessons more often.
Before I knew it, I had eight students/clients. Some wanted to learn to do things for themselves, and some wanted to have me do things for them. I have helped to create invitations, form letters, and excel spreadsheets. The list is endless. Each student wants to use the computer for their own unique reason. Many will never use the computer to its full potential, and others will outgrow it and upgrade frequently.
In 2001, I found apart-time teaching job at a private school in Hollywood. As I did so, my client base was still growing. I never thought to specialize in teaching seniors, but most of my clients range in age from 50 to 90. It’s a niche I feel lucky to have stumbled upon. Combined with a part-time teachng job, having my clients made it possible for me to land on my feet and stay in California.
The most interesting thing about teaching mature adults is experiencing their zest for living. Many of my students have very busy schedules filled with card games, lunches, drinks, and book clubs. My word-of-mouth grew and clients continue to call. Ten years later, I'm still helping seniors navigate this ever evolving age of technology. Some have me over frequently, and others call me when they are having a PC emergency.
As we continue moving forward with technological advances, more and more businesses and services are automating many of their services (both for employees and for their consumers). In the present day, we are seeing a myriad of automation being integrated into our daily routines. In many cases the technology is being developed faster than services can adapt. I'm here to tell you that the ‘High Speed Internet’ that I receive from Time Warner is not adequate enough to satisfy the demands of my iPhone.
In today’s automated world, it is becoming more difficult for the luddites of society to avoid technology. My clients want to be able to print photos, purchase airline and theater tickets, shop online, design business cards, perform online banking, and participate in social networking. The list is endless.
I am very thankful that I have been able to use my skills to branch out and help people. Being a teacher has always been my dream. I’m glad that I found a way to continue to teach even when the politics of my chosen career interrupt my employment.
It is important to be resourceful. The amazingly unique thing about America has always been that all of its citizens have this fantastic opportunity to make a living. It isn’t going to pop out of thin air. It takes strength, perseverance, discipline, research, and hard work. I was always taught that we make our own destiny. Only I can change my situation. Nobody is going to give me a life.
Sadly, I'm not currently assigned to a school. I was laid off at the end of last school year. Pink slipping is become commonplace in education, but thanks to this, My Brilliant Second Career, I still get to teach and the schedule isn’t bad either.
Ben Golburgh, Education Professional
Santa Monica, California