Lifelong teachers help adults get tech savvy at the library

This article by Library program instructors Susana Pederson and Alan Chestnut was originally published in the Arizona Daily Star on August 23, 2015.

Susana’s story
I was a teacher for more than 25 years, and I worked for TUSD teaching English Language Development classes, bilingual social studies, and Spanish for 17 of those years. What I enjoy the most about being a program instructor at the library is that I can help people learn new computer skills and help them feel confident about applying for jobs online. 

Most of the patrons I work with are over 40. Right now, they don’t have the skills they need to compete in this era of technology, but that’s what the library is for. We have lots of classes that can help anyone get online, set up an email account, or create a résumé for the first time. I love to see the happy faces on people when they have completed an online application, learned how to navigate the Internet, or created a document in Microsoft Office during my computer classes. It really does make a difference.

Many of my students are now able to use a computer on their own when they weren’t even able to use the mouse the first time they attended.

On a couple of occasions that I have helped people fill out job applications online, they came back a few weeks later to let me know they got the job and to thank me for helping them. One of the people who thanked me was a single mom who came to the library crying because she was feeling very desperate and hopeless.

It was so great to see her feeling good about herself again.

Alan’s story
I spent most of my career in public education at the high school level. I started as a biology teacher in Southern California and was a high school principal in Boulder, Colorado. Then I became a senior technical trainer for a Colorado database and networking company that helps to manage the nation’s 911 emergency call system. When we moved to Tucson two years ago I still wanted to help others learn. Early this year I started working as a library program instructor. 

Many of my students at the library didn’t grow up with technology and are intimidated by computers, laptops, tablets, and smartphones. I enjoy helping to demystify these devices and seeing the students’ confidence increase. They learn how to solve problems that happen when you use any computer or software, and they literally walk out of my class with their heads held higher.

This past spring I taught a class called, Me, Myself and My Family: An Introduction to Genealogy. One of my students had always been curious about her parents’ early years; specifically, where and when they had married. During class, I noticed that she was getting very emotional. Her face was turning red, and she seemed to be holding back tears. When I went over to see what the problem was, I discovered that her tears were tears of joy. She had found an online copy of her parents’ wedding license and learned they were married in a different county and on a different date than what she had always been told. She saw the actual signatures of the newlyweds and discovered who the official witnesses were at the wedding. She was just delighted to uncover this part of her family history.

In my Introduction to Computers class, one of my students was so intimated by the computer that she was extremely reluctant to even touch the mouse (she acted as if it might bite her or cause the computer to blow up). She seemed utterly overwhelmed by the notion of how to use a mouse, let alone how and when to right-click, left-click, or click and drag. By the end of the 6-class course, she was driving the mouse and clicking away like it was an extension of her hand. She has taken other courses from me, and continues to demonstrate not only her proficiency, but her comfort in mousing around on the computer.

I’ve always been a teacher at heart. Seeing that light bulb of learning turn on is as satisfying to me now as it was when I first starting teaching high school biology years ago.

Alan Chestnut teaches computer classes at the Flowing Wells Library, and enjoys woodworking, photography, traveling, and spending time with his grandchildren.

When she’s not helping Spanish-speaking patrons learn new computer skills at the El Pueblo Library or the Valencia Library, Susana Pederson spends time with her grandchildren, provides Spanish translation for her church at the Sunday services, and goes to the gym four times a week.

Free computer classes at the library
Group classes, one-on-one help, and drop-in help are available at several libraries throughout the week. Take a look at our calendar or call Infoline at (520) 791-4010 for information.