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Whiz Kid

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I finally got on-line last summer. But I never could have done it without Jason Leo.

My Macintosh Classic II computer is almost as antiquated as a typewriter, but the techies at my local network had assured me that there would be no problem connecting to the network to get and send e-mail.

So I got the 700-page lnternet Starter Kit and read all about e-mail. When I went to my computer dealer for a modem and told the salesman what model computer I had, his face fell before he rearranged it into an optimistic smile. He ended up selling me a modem he'd taken in a trade; it was brand-new but slow--outdated before the owner had gotten around to opening the shrink-wrap. It seemed perfectly suited to my old computer.

I plugged the modem into my computer, configured the modem's settings according to the manual, and dialed up the local commercial service with access to the Internet. Nothing doing. Although I managed to get and send one message, I was soon lost in long strings of nonsense letter-combinations, which was a UNIX code, according to a voice on the phone at the service. He said he would send me settings for TCP and PPP, which would make e-mail easier. I did receive a page of settings and tried again to connect. But I was getting more and more lost, more and more frustrated.

So I called again. This time I got a much younger voice, and I had to explain all over again that I just wanted to connect to the Internet for e-mail. He recommended Eudora software, which comes with the Internet Starter Kit. When I said I'd already installed it, he sounded impressed. "Do you have your PPP up yet?'' he said. Of course, I had no idea what he was talking about. He explained that PPP was a connection to their service and that without it, Eudora was completely useless. He told me where to find the PPP settings.

"Is the smiley face on?'' he asked hopefully. I had to tell him that the icon on my Macintosh was definitely a frowny face.

"Do you want me to walk you through the settings?'' he asked, in the kindly tone he might use to ask his grandmother if she would like him to walk her across the driveway.

"Oh, yes!'' I said gratefully, and he led me through a maze of wait time, idle timeout, echo interval, and port speed. As he told me each setting, I clicked the mouse to set my computer.

We hit a snag with the modem init, a string of numbers and letters that initialize the modem. The string varies according to the brand, model, and speed of the modem. Of course, my modem was too old to be on the list that comes with the software. "Just a minute,'' my guide said. "I'll go on the Internet to find your modem init.''

So as I waited on the phone in my study in rural Vermont, he caromed into cyberspace to get the modem init string. He returned empty-handed but not a bit discouraged. "They don't list any models as slow as yours,'' he said cheerfully, "but try one of these and see if the smiley face comes up.''

I should explain that since my modem and phone are on the same line, I couldn't talk on the phone and test my modem at the same time. So each time I called for advice, I had to hang up in order to see if the suggestion would work and then call back. Several calls later the frowny face finally changed to a smiley face, and I was, at last, connected.

By this time, I knew that my savior's name was Jason. "Would you mind telling me how old you are?'' I asked him.

"I'm 12,'' he answered. When I thanked him for all his help, I could almost hear him shrugging down the phone line. "I'm just helping my dad out in the office this summer,'' he said.

There's nothing like being a learner to keep a teacher humble. I was a beginner in the on-line game, and a resistant learner at that. Every call to the network was a long-distance call, and I didn't even want to learn about PPP configurations. I just wanted to send some e-mail.

But Jason was a perfect teacher. He told me only what I needed to know in order to learn; he encouraged me to do what I could on my own and cheerfully offered support when I needed it. He never lost hope, and he never lost his patience. Learning from him renewed my resolve not to lose hope or patience with my own students. It reminded me that I can't know who among them is already accomplished in a particular skill, who might be a great teacher.

I try to treat them all as if they were Jason.

--Maggie Brown Cassidy

The author has taught French at Brattleboro (Vt.) Union High School since 1977. This article is adapted from a broadcast on Vermont Public Radio.

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