Part-time and Seasonal Jobs

I worked a variety of part-time and seasonal jobs in high school and when I came home on college breaks. Artwork Copyright (c) 2017 Torin Finney. All rights reserved.

No one is paid to be a student. It takes a lot of effort to show up on time to class every day, participate regularly, complete all your homework and classwork assignments, and keep up on required reading and writing. The compensation for these efforts in the end is your diploma or degree. But the financial costs of formal education must still be paid. Family assistance, savings, scholarships, or loans can help to cover the expenses of tuition, books, food, and housing while you are enrolled in school. Yet even these sources of income may not be sufficient or readily available. If that is the case, you will need to find work.

I came from a big family, the oldest of six children. My parents were both educated and worked hard, but the uncertain economic times of the 1970s demanded resourcefulness and perseverance. Accordingly, I found work as soon as I was able. I delivered newspapers on my bicycle as an 8th and 9th grader in all four seasons in Virginia and was paid to write in calligraphy on diplomas and certificates. When I moved to California to finish high school, I shelved books at several branches of the Long Beach Public Library in my junior year and served ice cream sundaes at a candy store as a senior.

I typically worked 10-20 hours a week during the semester and full-time in the summer and over winter break. Maintaining such a schedule while living at home had its challenges. I did not have much time for a social life. I had to go to sleep early to have enough energy to attend classes and work my shift. Sometimes I had to isolate myself to concentrate on my schoolwork after completing my household chores. This was not always easy in such a large family. I spent many hours in the high school library finishing assignments in order to have a quiet environment in which to work.

I did well in high school and was awarded a UC Regents Scholarship to attend college, but the full ride only covered my freshman year. I did not want to rely on loans, so I looked for part-time and seasonal work. I was hired as a busboy at a local deli when I went home for winter break, and a neighbor got me a full-time summer job as a restaurant host across from the Los Alamitos racetrack when my freshman year was over. I wore a cowboy hat and sang in the lounge band when I was not seating guests at their tables.

Over winter break of my sophomore year I worked as a custodian at Disneyland, sweeping the streets of Frontierland and following the horses in the Main Street parade. I helped lost children find their parents and cleaned out the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. When I returned north for the spring term, I went to work as a ride operator on the Giant Dipper roller coaster and other attractions at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. I also landed a position as a food server and dishwasher for the Saga Food Corporation on campus.

I worked several part-time jobs while completing my B.A. degree at UC Santa Cruz in the early 1980s. Artwork Copyright (c) 2017 Torin Finney.

Balancing school with work was even more of a challenge in college than it had been in high school. As an American Studies major, I was faced with hundreds of pages of reading each week in history, literature, and political philosophy. The essays I had to write occasionally in high school were now replaced with longer term papers on a regular basis. Both my part-time jobs were demanding, and I eventually had to drop the position at the boardwalk. The campus cafeteria job offered a free meal as well as wages for every shift, so I focused my energies there.

I decided to stay in Santa Cruz during the summers of 1981 and 1983 to work at the English language institute on campus. I served international students breakfast, lunch, and dinner and worked the big dishwashing machine afterwards. I was not enrolled in summer classes myself so I was able to work a full-time shift. In the summer of 1982 I went home to Orange County to finish the first draft of my senior thesis on the Japanese American soldiers in World War II (see my blog entry on “Ghosts of Manzanar”). I graduated the next year with only a small student loan balance to take with me. Part-time and seasonal work had covered most of my expenses.

I worked part-time as a research assistant during my three semesters in graduate school at UMass/Boston. Artwork Copyright (c) 2017 Torin Finney.

I applied to five graduate programs in American Studies and was accepted to three. I chose to attend the University of Massachusetts at Boston in part because they were the only school to offer me financial assistance. This came in the form of part-time work. I served one of my professors as a research assistant during my first two semesters and worked in the offices of a local peace organization as part of a work-study program in my final term. I went back to northern California in between semesters to work as a bilingual counselor at a summer camp operated by the Archdiocese of San Francisco.

I finished my coursework in Boston by December of 1984 and moved to the Bay Area to enroll in seminary. During the spring of 1985 I registered with a temporary employment agency and was hired to type housing contracts for the City of Berkeley while I finished the final draft of my Master’s thesis. Temp agencies are great resources for part-time jobs. Many firms and organizations have extra work that cannot be farmed out to their regular employees. Temporary positions are ideal for students and can sometimes morph into more permanent work. Develop your skill set in office and computer work and you will rarely be unemployed.

I worked several temporary jobs during my six years in seminary in Berkeley, California, including this position as a data entry clerk in the pharmacy at Alta Bates Hospital. Artwork Copyright (c) 2017 Torin Finney.

I spent six years earning my Master of Divinity degree at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California. During that time I worked many part-time jobs, including student hospital chaplain, development assistant at a church-sponsored senior center, data entry clerk at a hospital pharmacy, painter of the president’s house on campus, and director of youth and education programs at a local parish. After returning from my internship year in Hawai’i, I worked part-time as an office assistant in the seminary’s field education office.

I spent my last semester in seminary finishing my M.Div. degree and working part-time in the Office of Contextual Education. Artwork Copyright (c) 2017 Torin Finney.

The field education job involved placing students in their internship and teaching parishes across the western United States and interfacing with local clergy and congregations. It was a helpful link between full-time student life and my first independent pastoral assignment in Kansas. When I returned to California the following year to pursue a new career, I found another job through a temporary agency in Sacramento. This developed into a full-time permanent job that lasted for many years and allowed me to transition to my first teaching position in 1998.

Most of my students over the next two decades were working in jobs during or in between semesters. Several joined their families in seasonal agricultural work. Some worked for their parents’ businesses. Many worked in retail, food service, or tourism. Whenever I asked my economics seniors how many of them were working outside of school, I always got a forest of raised hands. For six years in Bakersfield, I taught working adults in the evening. The task of balancing school with work is something many students deal with every day.

The costs of education have increased exponentially in the three decades since I was a student. The “Millennial” generation that formed the largest group of my own students is now faced with astronomical tuition and housing bills that deter many from pursuing higher degrees. For some, the best choice is to remain at home and attend their local community college while working part-time. Such jobs are still available to students, but conditions of underemployment in the economy have limited opportunities for advancement. The issue of student debt has made its way into political debate and national news.

Yet in spite of these challenges, higher education can still offer the path to a brighter future. Because of rising costs, more students need to work while attending school. But there are also more scholarship programs available, particularly to those with special skills or economic need. Working in the community or on campus builds a strong resume and helps you discern where you want to go next. Experimenting with different industries and career paths is a healthy way to work toward economic independence. Allow time for rest, exercise, and play while you work. A balanced life is a happy life.

Copyright (c) 2019 Torin Finney. All rights reserved.

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Community Service

I was involved with the Key Club as a student in 1978-1979 and as a faculty advisor from 2013 to 2018. Photo Copyright (c) 2016 Torin Finney.

Community service is an integral part of a well-rounded education. Many schools include it as a graduation requirement, particularly for honors students with a weighted GPA. Getting involved in your community increases your awareness of social issues and helps in advancing personal development. Most religious and civic service organizations offer programs that give young people the opportunity to learn and serve. Balancing your academic load with extra-curricular activities can be challenging, but the rewards of service are worth the effort.

Start with your own school and neighborhood. Learn about campus clubs and discover which ones involve serving the community. Ask your relatives, neighbors, and local clergy and elected officials what needs to be done. When I was a student in Virginia in the 1970s, I helped with a summer educational program for mentally disabled adults at my church and participated in neighborhood clean up efforts with my scout troop. As a senior in high school, I joined the Key Club and rode in bike-a-thons to raise money for heart disease research. All these activities made me feel as if I were making a difference in improving the quality of life in my community.

On campus activities such as cancer awareness days and blood drives provide opportunities for you to do your part. Cultural clubs can call attention to civil rights issues as well as artistic expression. Canvassing for local candidates can familiarize you with current political debates and help you form your own opinions on important public issues. Visiting your local courthouse and attending the grand openings of new businesses are other ways to make your presence known as an active member of your community.

Religious organizations in particular offer a myriad of charitable activities in which young people can participate. Local churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, and other congregations sponsor soup kitchens and food banks for the needy, shelters for the homeless, counseling and health care programs, recreational and educational events, and opportunities to visit the elderly, the homebound, the hospitalized, and the imprisoned. Those of you who are religious can ask your clergy or other members of your community how you can get involved. If you are not religious, these groups will still welcome your participation. There is always a need for more dedicated volunteers.

I was heavily involved in church work from 1982 to 1992. I taught adult classes on issues of war and peace and sang in both folk and traditional choirs. I led an inner-city youth group in Berkeley, California in the mid-1980s and assisted a local pastor in visiting the sick and the infirm. In Honolulu, I spent an intern year preaching and teaching and helping with a local food program for the homeless. I served as a student hospital chaplain for patients with cancer and HIV/AIDS as well as for those participating in a substance abuse rehabilitation program. In 1984 and 1989 I worked in outdoor summer camps with at-risk children as a recreational and educational leader. I served for over a year as the co-pastor of a two-point parish in central Kansas.

Part of an art project I began in 2014 called my “Rock Resume.” These stones commemorate my years of service in religious organizations between 1982 and 1992. Artwork Copyright (c) 2017 Torin Finney.

Local service organizations such as the Lions and Kiwanis sponsor regular activities to help the community. All welcome the participation of young people, particularly high school and college students. Whether the activity is trash cleanup, fundraisers for health care research, listening to those in need, literacy classes for newcomers and the poor, writing to members of Congress or uniformed personnel overseas, or collecting canned goods for the local food bank, there are always possibilities available for someone seeking active community service.

Not all service roles are strictly volunteer. If you have time for a part-time job while you are in school, consider one that would allow you to help others in some way. Working as a paid staffer in a food bank or nursing home will offer you non-monetary rewards beyond your paycheck. Make use of your skill set. If you are bilingual, think about working for a business or non-profit organization that serves the immigrant community. If you have construction or home improvement skills, go to work for a contractor who participates in low-income housing projects. If you are facile with words, write for a public advocacy periodical or start your own blog.

Whatever you decide to do, make the most of the service opportunities in your area. Everyone has something to offer. Identify your skill set and contribute to the common good. Doing so will round out your educational experience and strengthen your college applications. But most importantly, you will know that you are helping to improve the quality of life in your community. As the old saying goes, making a difference is just as important as making a dividend. There are always opportunities to make a difference. Open your mind and your heart to finding your place in that effort.

From December 1992 to October 1996 I worked as a bilingual operator for the California Relay Service in Sacramento, a telephone service for the hearing impaired. Artwork Copyright (c) 2017 Torin Finney.

Copyright (c) 2019 Torin Finney. All rights reserved.

To sign up for tutoring, please visit my website at

Staying Informed

I have been an avid NPR listener since 1983.

Freedom of the press is one of the hallmarks of our democracy. This pillar of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is also linked to freedom of speech, expression, and association. We are free to say and think what we want, to listen to and wear what we want, to join or unjoin the associations of our choice, and to choose our own personal and business relationships. But with this freedom comes responsibility. The other side of freedom of expression is critical thinking. As students of history, politics, and economics, it is important that we stay informed of what is going on in our nation and our world. Ignorance is not bliss in the social sciences. Information is power.

America is a country obsessed with the news. Early observers such as Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859) and others noticed the proliferation of periodicals as well as societies, clubs, and associations. By 1800 there were 200 newspapers in the United States. By 1860 there were 3,000. Giant steam presses and the telegraph revolutionized the journalism industry. 500 artists and correspondents were sent out to cover the Civil War (1861-1865). They sent innumerable dispatches home for printing and sketches for engraving. By the end of the war, photography had joined the ranks of the burgeoning media frenzy.

Radio emerged from the First World War, and by the end of the Roaring Twenties everybody had one. Television followed in the 1950s. The original three networks of ABC, CBS, and NBC were joined by PBS in 1967 with the signing of the Public Broadcasting Act by President Lyndon Johnson. This legislation also created the framework for National Public Radio, which began broadcasting in 1971. Local affiliates gradually grew over the following decades, many of them on college campuses. Today there are more than a thousand NPR stations serving over 30 million listeners.

I became one of them in the fall of 1983 as a graduate student at UMass/Boston. I began listening to WUMB Radio 91.9 FM from my apartment in Wollaston near Quincy. The mixture of folk music, entertaining shows, and comprehensive news grabbed my attention immediately. I especially enjoyed listening to All Things Considered with Robert Siegel, Susan Stamberg, and Noah Adams. The news was commercial free and focused on in-depth analysis of complex political, social, and economic issues in a way I had never heard before.

I was an avid television news follower during my childhood in the 1960s and 1970s, especially during the year my uncle was flying a helicopter in the Vietnam War. But radio news had not come under my radar. Radio was for music and television was for news. But then I went off to college in 1979 and no longer had a TV. The campus radio station at UC Santa Cruz, KZSC 88.1 FM, broadcast mostly reggae and other world music at the time, but I don’t remember listening to NPR during my time there. KZSC carried the Pacifica Evening News, as did KPFA 94.1 when I lived in Berkeley a few years later. Pacifica programming had a left-leaning slant that counterbalanced the more conservative orientations of popular AM talk radio.

I appreciated NPR’s more measured approach to political discourse and the detail into which it delved to uncover the causes, course, and consequences of current events. Prominent Democrats and Republicans as well as independent and third party candidates were interviewed during election season and in debates on contentious issues. Small business and large corporations were covered. World news was given as much attention as local and national. Thematic series were developed. Special music and other cultural programs appeared and grew. Profiles of artists, writers, and independent filmmakers attracted a growing audience.

The cable television revolution of the 1980s and beyond offered a myriad of new choices for the discerning viewer. Fox News began to offer a more conservative perspective, as did MSNBC for more liberal viewers. CNN and other Turner programs grew exponentially, covering stories that the mainstream networks had ignored for decades. Television coverage became increasingly complex in both technology and analysis. The growth of the internet in the 1990s and smartphone technology in the new millennium led to further transformations in the media. Online journals, blogs, and podcasts competed with traditional newsprint.

I took advantage of all these new outlets as they each made their appearance. My personal favorite remained NPR, however, and I found my local station wherever I lived. In the Bay Area I listened to KPFA in Berkeley and KQED Public Media. In Honolulu in 1989-1990 I listened to Hawai’i Public Radio. During my year in Kansas I followed Radio Kansas out of Hutchinson Community College. I listened to Capital Public Radio when I lived in Sacramento and Valley Public Radio when I was in Bakersfield. In Orange County I had KPCC and KCRW on the radio during my commute. When I moved to San Diego last year, I immediately found KPBS.

I paid extra attention during Presidential election years, beginning in Boston with the Reagan-Mondale contest in the fall of 1984. During my decade in church work and my twenty years as a classroom teacher, I remained informed and encouraged my students to do the same. News programs helped me produce better essays and papers as a student, better seminars and lectures as a teacher, a comprehensive genealogy scrapbook project, and a more informed choice at the ballot.

NPR entertained me on long drives and allowed me to consider important issues in greater depth and detail. Morning Edition and All Things Considered occupied my daily commute for years. Weekend Edition helped me wind down after a hectic week at work. Jazz, classical, folk, and world music programs formed the backdrop of my day to day ops and social gatherings. Special educational and cultural programs like The Thistle and Shamrock and The Thomas Jefferson Hour entertained and inspired on a regular basis.

Now you can listen to news podcasts on your iPhone or Android device. Opinion pieces, blogs, and online forums number in the millions. Search engines allow for comprehensive browsing. Sound bytes are an effective marketing tool for potential new listeners. YouTube channels give anyone the opportunity to contribute to public discourse and the dissemination of information. Attracting new online followers can lead to better programming. Many entrepreneurial startups add new media options to the menu every day.

The exponential growth in news coverage over the last fifty years has offered the contemporary reader and listener an endless smorgasbord of choice. This is a good thing in light of the First Amendment. It can also be daunting and perplexing. The best approach as a media consumer is the same as that of a serious student of history and other social sciences. Consider as many perspectives as possible while forming your own opinion. The more you listen, the more you will learn. Thomas Jefferson identified an “enlightened citizenry” as the foundation of a strong democratic society. Staying informed is an important part of achieving and maintaining an enlightened mind.

I portrayed a 19th century newsman during my participation in living history programs across the United States from 1999 to 2008. To read more, visit my James Allen Davis website here. Copyright (c) 2014 Torin Finney.

Copyright (c) 2019 Torin Finney. All rights reserved.

To sign up for tutoring, please visit my website at

Shadowing His Steps

Civil War campaigns of my great-great-grandfather, Michael Schneider (1842-1900), who served for more than four years in Cleveland’s Company G of the 27th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. Copyright (c) 1995 Torin Finney.

In the spring of 1992 I was living and working in central Kansas and thinking of taking a vacation. My sister was living in Savannah, Georgia at the time with her family and offered to let me stay there for a few days. She had been there for a few years and wanted to show me her new house. I had been working hard since my arrival in Kansas the previous summer and was ready for a break. With fond memories of my previous cross-country road trips and an interest in the historic sites of the South, I decided to go. I set aside two weeks for the round trip and started to pack.

I decided to take U.S. 50 northeast to Emporia, where I would follow Interstate 35 to Kansas City and then pick up I-70 across central Missouri and southern Illinois and Indiana to Dayton, Ohio, where I would attend a national retreat held by Brother Roger Schutz (1915-2005) and the Taize Community at the university there. From Dayton, I would take I-75 south through Cincinnati and Louisville all the way to Knoxville, Tennessee, where I would merge onto I-40 southeast to Asheville, North Carolina. From Asheville, I-26 would take me through South Carolina to the junction of I-95 for the final short leg of the journey into Savannah.

I finished my final preparations and took off in early May. I was looking forward to seeing Ohio, Tennessee, and North Carolina again, all scenes of my childhood that I had not visited for decades. My maternal grandmother was buried in Bedford County, Tennessee and I planned to pay my respects there on the way back. I knew from my studies of the Civil War period that Savannah was captured by Union General William Tecumseh Sherman in December of 1864 and offered to President Abraham Lincoln as a Christmas gift. Unlike the rest of Georgia, Savannah was spared the torch and preserved with its stately colonial and Victorian architecture for future generations to enjoy.

What I did not know is that I would be retracing the steps of a Civil War ancestor, Michael Schneider (1842-1900), who was born in the German state of Wurttemberg and settled in Cleveland, Ohio with his immigrant parents. My new genealogy hobby was in its infancy and I had no idea yet that my grandmother’s grandfather had marched with Sherman through Georgia and participated in the capture and occupation of Savannah. Moreover, the route I would be taking had many other parallels with the locales of his wartime campaigns. Much of my planned route would take me within a few miles of where he had marched from 1861 to 1865.

I set out in early May and made good progress across Kansas and into Missouri. Route 70 was bordered by thick forests, once the scene of innumerable “bushwhacker” hideouts during the Civil War. Guerrilla chieftains like William Clarke Quantrill and “Bloody Bill” Anderson used the thick cover and hidden creek beds of western Missouri as a base from which to launch raids on Union garrisons, columns, and settlements. I remember the density of the forest cover in one of the campgrounds where I stayed the night. Other than the modern interstate highway and some roadside truck stops, the wild character of that country had probably not changed much since the 1860s.

Unbeknownst to me, my ancestor Michael Schneider’s regiment, the 27th Ohio Volunteer Infantry of Fuller’s Brigade, began their first wartime campaign by chasing these guerrilla bands through central Missouri, trying to thwart their raids and prevent young men from enlisting in the Confederate Army. They marched to the aid of Colonel James A. Mulligan (1830-1864) and his 23rd Illinois (Chicago’s Irish regiment, in which another of my distant relatives served) at Lexington, but were too late to relieve the siege there and prevent Mulligan’s surrender. The 27th Ohio continued their march, passing through towns like Sedalia, Syracuse, and Milford before moving southeast to participate in the Battles of New Madrid and Island Number 10 in early 1862.

Continuing along I-70, I took a detour to the picturesque Missouri River town of Hermann, an historic settlement of German immigrants at the heart of the “Missouri Rhineland.” While my ancestor did not pass through Hermann during the war, the German architecture and cultural attractions I saw there would have certainly been familiar to his eyes, as his youth in 1850s Cleveland was spent in a similar immigrant neighborhood along the shores of Lake Erie. Most German immigrants sided with the Union in the Civil War, having fled political persecution in the German states. Many were ardent abolitionists and loyal members of Lincoln’s Republican Party.

My trip continued uneventfully across the mighty Mississippi and on through the corn and soybean fields of southern Illinois and Indiana. Before arriving in Dayton, I stopped to visit a seminary classmate in the small town of Fort Recovery, Ohio, right across the Indiana border. This was near the site of a famous 1791 battle between soldiers of the young United States and Native American warriors under Chief Little Turtle. The museum and visitor center were fascinating and included a reconstructed bastion of the 1793 log fort. Just to the east of here in Columbus, my ancestor had enlisted and trained at Camp Chase during the first wartime summer of 1861.

The Taize retreat in Dayton was edifying and I enjoyed meeting pilgrims from around the world who had come to learn and pray. I was privileged to meet Brother Roger in person, a friend of Mother Teresa (1910-1997) and a respected spiritual leader throughout the world until his tragic assassination in 2005. After leaving Dayton, I crossed the Ohio River and continued south into Kentucky. Ironically, my ancestor passed by here at the end of his wartime service on his way to muster out with his regiment at Louisville in July of 1865.

Moving through southern Kentucky and into eastern Tennessee, I was pleased to experience the sights and sounds of the Great Smoky Mountains again. I had enjoyed traveling through the Smokies as a boy, particularly the trails of Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the majestic Grandfather Mountain. I could smell the sweet pines along the thickly forested interstate highway and even caught a passing glimpse of a mountain lion making his way up the rugged slope. My ancestor’s regiment had not served in this part of Tennessee, but they had fought at the Battle of Parker’s Crossroads further west and helped to garrison occupied Memphis, where I lived from 1971 to 1973 and attended 5th and 6th grade.

My route took me briefly through the mountains of western North Carolina. I was unable to travel eastward to visit Raleigh and the Outer Banks, where I spent much time as a small boy learning about Blackbeard, the Wright Brothers, and many other figures and events from local history. South of Raleigh is the Bentonville Battlefield, where my ancestor fought his final engagement on March 19-21, 1865 before marching north to participate in the Grand Review in Washington after the Confederate surrender. Bentonville is a well-restored Civil War site that I have yet to visit. I did pass nearby in 1984 during my road trip from Boston to Florida, but had no idea at the time of my ancestor’s involvement there.

After participating in the capture of Savannah, my ancestor marched north into the Carolinas with Sherman’s Union forces. His regiment participated in the third day of the Battle of Bentonville, North Carolina on March 21, 1865. Copyright (c) 1995 Torin Finney.

Interstate 26 took me southeast from the Smokies into South Carolina, where I passed through Columbia, the state capital. Fuller’s Brigade was there on February 17, 1865 when Sherman’s forces occupied the city and then left it in ashes. Whether or not Union invaders or the retreating Confederates ignited the blaze is still a matter of debate. What is beyond doubt is that war is cruelty, as General Sherman himself so famously said. I would like to think that my ancestor never personally burned someone’s home or business and did not make war on civilians. But even to this day, Sherman and his men are still seen by many in the South as merciless invaders.

I-26 merged into I-95 near the town of Whetsell, and I continued southwest toward the Georgia border. I drove through the vast wetlands and marshes fed by the Salkehatchie River, scene of yet another of my ancestor’s exploits. After leaving Savannah and heading into South Carolina at the beginning of February 1865, Sherman’s engineers began constructing log “corduroy roads” through what was thought to be an impassable swamp. Confederate assumptions about Yankee mobility in the area proved to be incorrect, and an attempt to block Sherman’s advance at River’s Bridge was unsuccessful. The blue columns continued inexorably north.

When I finally arrived in Savannah, I was not disappointed. The famed “Hostess City of the South” was even more lovely and enchanting in person than she had been in pictures. There was much to see there. Founded in 1733, the city was a prominent port in colonial America and was the target of a British assault during the Revolutionary War. Many 18th century original and reconstructed buildings remain from that era, particularly in the popular tourist area along River Street. I had just missed the big St. Patrick’s Day parade there, but I did enjoy strolling among the brick storefronts and cobblestones. An annual pirate festival celebrates another lively chapter from the city’s history.

After Georgia’s secession from the Union in 1861, local Confederate forces occupied Fort Pulaski, named after the Polish soldier who gave his life defending the city against the British. The fort’s strategic location on Cockspur Island at the mouth of the Savannah River protected Confederate commerce and blockade runners until Union rifled cannon bombarded it into submission in April 1862. I thoroughly enjoyed my visit there and recognized its bastions years later when I watched the 2010 movie The Conspirator, which was filmed there under the direction of Robert Redford.

Apparently the Oscar-winning film Forrest Gump was being filmed in Savannah around the time I was there, but I was unaware of when and where that was happening. I did get to see the Ron Howard film Far and Away in the local theater, which tied in well with my ongoing family history interest. I went to the Green Mansion, where Sherman set up his headquarters after occupying the city in 1864, and the Colonial Park Cemetery, where some of the gravestones still leaned to one side after being kicked by Union cavalry horses corralled there. Others were, according to local legend, vandalized by vengeful Yankee troops.

The stately colonial squares with their wrought iron and ornate fountains were filled with white canvas tents and campfires for a time during the two months of Union occupation. Confederate prisoners had been locked up in a makeshift camp along Bay Street, and thousands of escaped slaves from across Georgia and the Carolinas poured into the city in search of Sherman’s protection. All of this I learned while I was there, but I had no idea my direct ancestor had been a part of the occupying forces. The Civil War still lingers in Savannah, both in the lucrative tourist trade and the more subtle ambivalence about the meaning of the conflict.

Period engraving of General William Tecumseh Sherman and his army entering Savannah on December 21, 1864.

After my time in Savannah was over, I decided to head home by a different route. I drove northwest on Interstate 16 to Macon and then headed up I-75 to Atlanta. I was unwittingly following in reverse the very route my ancestor had taken when he left Atlanta in November 1864 on Sherman’s famous (or infamous, to many Southerners) March to the Sea. Sherman’s columns laid waste to the local countryside in a deliberate effort to crush the Confederacy’s industrial and agricultural infrastructure. Homes, businesses and farms were burned, livestock slaughtered, and railroads demolished, leaving one Confederate observer to describe how stark rows of burnt chimneys marked the passage of the invader.

When I arrived in Atlanta, I visited the spectacular Cyclorama with its 360-degree panoramic painting of the July 22, 1864 Battle of Atlanta, completed by German artist Friedrich Wilhelm Heine in 1886. I had visited the museum as a boy and remembered it affectionately, but was unaware of the contribution my own ancestor during the battle. The 27th Ohio was part of General James B. McPherson’s Army of the Tennessee, and was the first unit to be hit by the Confederate assault on “Bald Hill” on July 22. The 27th checked the enemy advance for a time, but sustained close to 50% casualties. They also lost General McPherson himself, who was killed by Confederate pickets. Michael Schneider survived the carnage, but many of his comrades did not.

Detail from the Atlanta Cyclorama painting by Friedrich Wilhelm Heine. My ancestor’s regiment, the 27th Ohio of Fuller’s Brigade, was heavily involved in the day’s fighting on July 22, 1864 and sustained close to 50% casualties.

I also visited the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum and the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park while I was in Atlanta. There was much to see and do and the city had expanded significantly in the years since I went there as a boy. I continued north on I-75 and returned to Tennessee, this time driving to the small Bedford County town of Normandy and visiting my maternal grandmother’s grave. The simple stone lying peacefully in a grassy field behind an old barn next to several other generations of her adopted family brought back sad memories of her memorial service there 18 years earlier. I stood in silent reflection and placed a rose on the stone.

This small act of homage tied in to my ancestral pilgrimage in ways I did not foresee at the time, for it was her grandfather’s Civil War campaigns I was unknowingly retracing. Several years later I became involved in reenacting the war as a Union soldier and correspondent, in part to recognize the role my ancestors had played in saving the Union and ending slavery. I believe my grandmother and her grandfather had both guided my steps on that 1992 road trip. Later that year, I returned to California and changed careers, eventually becoming a full-time history teacher for twenty years. I would like to think that I did my part in passing down the family story and honoring the deeds of my forebears.

My certificate of membership in the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War. I joined in 2001 and remained an active member until 2006.

Copyright (c) 2019 Torin Finney. All rights reserved.

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Testimonials Page

“Everybody is talking about Mr. Finney’s Testimonials Page!”

Happy Summer Solstice! With the longest day of the year upon us, you will have more time to check out my new Testimonials Page. Click here to read letters of recommendation from some of my former administrators. Testimonials from former students will be uploaded soon. And don’t forget to follow me on Instagram!

Whether you are still teaching or enrolled in summer school, traveling, catching up on summer reading, or just resting before the next school year, I hope you have a summer filled with relaxation and inspiration!

Copyright (c) 2019 Torin Finney. All rights reserved.

To sign up for tutoring, please visit my website at

Memorial Day Weekend

Memorial Day began as Decoration Day in the 1860s to honor the Union dead of the American Civil War. Copyright (c) 1995 Torin Finney. All rights reserved.

For many of you, Memorial Day represents the end of the school year and final exams. Many people observe this three-day weekend with picnics and parades, much like Labor Day or Independence Day. In the midst of the jubilation and relaxation, it is easy to forget the somber origins of this important national holiday.

I drew the flag pictured above to commemorate the campaigns of my great-great-grandfather Michael Schneider, who served in Company G of the 27th Ohio Infantry throughout the American Civil War. He and the other volunteers of his regiment, many of them recent immigrants living in Cleveland, answered President Lincoln’s call to preserve the Union and later to end slavery. By the end of the war in 1865, 214 of them had given their lives in what Lincoln called “the last full measure of devotion.” These are among the people we commemorate on Memorial Day.

More than one million Americans have died in the nation’s wars, with the fratricidal Civil War being the most destructive. Decoration Day began while the war was still raging to honor those who died to save the Union and was eventually renamed Memorial Day to include all those lost on distant battlefields throughout United States history. Flags and flowers are placed on the graves of the fallen today, just as they were over 150 years ago.

As the school year ends and summer break approaches, let us remember those who gave everything to preserve our rights, including our personal freedoms and the right to a safe community and quality public education. On this Memorial Day weekend, may we dedicate our own lives to the continued preservation of those rights for all Americans.

Copyright (c) 2019 Torin Finney. All rights reserved.

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Harvey Milk Day

Sporting a rainbow bow tie and vintage campaign button for Harvey Milk Day. The rainbow flag was designed as a symbol of LGBT pride by San Francisco artist Gilbert Baker (1951-2017) in 1978, the same year Milk and Mayor George Moscone were assassinated at City Hall. Photo copyright (c) 2018 Torin Finney.

Harvey Milk Day was declared a special commemorative day in California public schools by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2009 and has since been recognized across the country and the world as a day to recognize America’s premier LGBT civil rights figure. Milk was born on May 22, 1930 and assassinated on November 27, 1978. He was America’s first openly gay public official and called for all lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans to come out of the shadows and assert their rights as equal members of our society.

I remember well the day Harvey Milk was killed. I was a senior in high school in southern California and had several gay friends and classmates, many of whom had not yet made the decision to come out to their families. There was rampant homophobia throughout the country at that time and my U.S. history class did not include the contributions of LGBT Americans. When I became a history teacher 20 years later, I did what I could to correct that error in my classes. I included LGBT history in my curriculum and made sure my students learned about Harvey Milk on May 22.

June 28 this year will be the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in New York City, which later led to the first Pride parades across the country. The San Diego Pride Parade takes place in the famous Hillcrest neighborhood near where I live and promises to be the largest in the city’s history. While homophobia and hate crimes continue to mar our national life, prominent legal victories and the election of many openly LGBT public officials have paved the way for a new generation of activists and leaders. Harvey Milk once said that “hope will never be silent.” May all of us raise our voices of hope in support of full civil rights for all people.

Copyright (c) 2019 Torin Finney. All rights reserved.

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Malcolm X Day

Observing Malcolm X Day with a vintage 1960s bow tie and lapel pin. Copyright (c) 2018 Torin Finney.

Malcolm X (1925-1965) was one of the most important civil rights figures of the 20th century. A reformed convict who emerged from prison as the fiery spokesman of the Nation of Islam, he decried racism and injustice to a largely urban African American audience fed up with police brutality and government inaction in the black community. Criticized as an extremist by the mainstream media and rival civil rights leaders during his lifetime, he has since been recognized by many as an articulate and charismatic champion for political, economic, and cultural self-determination.

I remember listening to recordings of his speeches as a child, and years later shared those recordings with my students. By the time he was assassinated in 1965, Malcolm X had begun reaching out to other civil rights and religious leaders and calling for international unity among all people of African descent around the world. My mother was a great admirer of Malcolm X and saw him as an inspiring example for anyone struggling to throw off the shackles of shame and discrimination. He is also perhaps America’s most famous Muslim, an important role in an age of emerging religious pluralism.

The city of Berkeley, California (where I lived, studied, and worked from 1985 to 1991) adopted May 19 as an official municipal holiday in 1979, with public schools and city offices closed in honor of Malcolm X’s birthday. The state of Illinois passed a resolution adopting Malcolm X Day as a holiday in 2015. Many other local communities commemorate his life and work either on this day or during the third weekend in May.

Malcolm X was among the most exceptional orators in American history. Many of his speeches have a contemporary ring today. His message remains inspirational to all who seek to transcend the negative voices of the past and embrace a positive, independent future with confidence and courage.

Copyright (c) 2019 Torin Finney. All rights reserved.

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Taking Notes

Taking notes is a big part of your history class or any other subject in the social sciences. There is a lot of material to keep track of, and state content standards are rigorous and extensive. Knowing how to take detailed notes in the right format will help you keep up with that content and achieve your best grade possible.

Cornell style notes are a time-proven method of organizing and engaging with historical content. I used them for most of my time as a high school teacher and encouraged my college and middle school students to employ them as well. They were a required part of both lectures and documentary films in my classes. I provided a paper copy of printed Cornell forms for students to use as well as online copies in my digital classrooms.

If a printed Cornell form is not at your disposal, create your own. Write your name and the course title at the top of the page and the subject of the lecture or discussion in the top left corner. Draw a column along the left margin about a third of the way into the page and divide that column into three or four parts. This is where you will create topics or questions that can funnel the content you are hearing or seeing into specific categories.

If the instructor is unclear about those categories ahead of time, you will have to do that part yourself as best you can. Keep track of the information you hear and see in the larger space to the right of the subject column. Write down important dates and places (When and Where), people and groups (Who), important events and ideas (What), cause and effect (Why), and cyclical patterns (Historical Consequences). These were the same themes I had my students use when creating their quarter projects and taking notes on them in class.

Repeat this pattern on both sides of your paper. At the bottom, create another margin where you synthesize the page’s content into a summary statement or conclusion. Then review everything you have written before turning it in at the end of class (if that is what the teacher requires) or filing it in your subject notebook.

Of course, Cornell notes are not universally required or accepted by all instructors, but they are nonetheless a good way to organize content as you go. Organize your notes into sections according to the units of the course so you can use them to study for tests and exams. Color code your notes to help you make connections between patterns of people and events. Use the same color code in linking your class notes to the written assignments you complete in your textbook. The more consistency and connection you can create, the better.

Many people try to rely on their “photographic memory” and feel that extensive notes are unnecessary. I can tell you from decades as a student and teacher that this is not the case, at least for the majority of learners. History tests tend to be fact heavy and historical writing demands detail and documentation. The same can be said for economics, psychology, sociology, political science, anthropology, and world religions. Copious and well-organized notes are an essential part of academic success in the social sciences.

Save all your notes and other written assignments until the end of the semester after your final exams are over. If the course lasts for an entire year and culminates with a comprehensive final, continue to save and reorganize your notes until then. It is too much to ask of yourself to try to remember something you learned many months earlier. A well-organized notebook will aid you in recall and reanalysis.

Use your notes to help you in constructing essay assignments. Remember that writing in the social sciences is different from the expository or creative writing you might do in your English class. The more evidence and analysis you include in historical essays, the more persuasive and impressive they will be to the person reading them. In history, one can never have too many notes. The key to success is to organize them in such a way that they can help you achieve it.

Copyright (c) 2019 Torin Finney. All rights reserved.

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Cesar Chavez Day

Copyright (c) 2017 Torin Finney. All rights reserved.

Today would have been Cesar Chavez’s 92nd birthday. In the years following his death in 1993, support grew to commemorate March 31 each year as a “day of national service.” President Barack Obama established Cesar Chavez Day as a federal holiday in 2014 and now eleven states have followed suit.

I decided to answer his call to service as an educator. During my five years as a middle school social studies teacher and drama coach in Bakersfield, California, I had the good fortune to have some of his grandnieces and grandnephews in my classes. Chavez’s wife Helen Fabela attended nearby Delano High School during World War II and many of her relatives settled in Kern County.

Cesar’s legacy is strong in the Bakersfield area. He is buried at Cesar E. Chavez National Monument near the rural town of Keene. I incorporated the story of his civil rights and educational work in my history curriculum over the course of my seven years in Bakersfield and continued to do so during my subsequent thirteen years in Orange County.

There are many forms of national service. As teachers, we have the unique opportunity to continue Cesar Chavez’s work for equality and human rights in a lasting and meaningful way. May his vision of an America that celebrates dignity and diversity come to fruition through the efforts of all those who serve.

Copyright (c) 2019 Torin Finney. All rights reserved.

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