Photo courtesy of www.123rf.com.
I had my first tutoring experience today with a local literacy center, a wonderful nonprofit organization that trains volunteer tutors (ranging from university students to retired people) to teach adult literacy to people struggling with English in the surrounding areas.
Why Tutoring? For a long time, I’ve contemplated what type of volunteer work I wanted to do, and since I’ve recently become unemployed (although it feels like a century!), I wanted to make sure my volunteer experience would be with an organization that I knew I’d want to keep even after I got a paying job.
What I love about the literacy center is their passion to educate, because they recognize all the ways education enhances a community. It’s more than just a support system to the economy. It also provides growth opportunities for individuals who may not have the means otherwise.
My Path Back to Education. For the longest time, I never thought I would enjoy teaching, which is probably why I avoided the idea of tutoring for so long. But a part of me was excited about the idea of being in a school setting after graduation (I’m kind of a “schoolie;” ask my friends). When I applied to college, I wrote my application essay about my passion for Elementary Education, describing what I could bring to future children if they’d only accept me onto their campus. In high school, I prepared by job shadowing with a local elementary school teacher and working as an assistant child caretaker at a daycare center. But my mindset in college led me down a writing/editing path instead and I changed my major to journalism.
After years of struggling to find a career in journalism (which is floundering itself these days) after graduation, I started imagining a new career for myself. Where could I see myself? Well, I knew this much: I am a writer; I am an editor; I am a reader; I am a learner; I am a researcher; I am compassionate; I welcome diversity; I enjoy traveling. During my last job as a copy editor (working 90+ hours a week sometimes), I had time to rediscover what I wanted out of life. I no longer preferred a “behind the desk job.” I wanted to physically work with people, help them. And that’s how I changed paths, yet again, to seek employment with a nonprofit organization.
My Student. My student is 30-something years old with a thirst for knowledge. One of the first things she did was give me permission to correct her sentences as she spoke and she did not shy away from the blank pieces of paper when I asked her to write complete sentences. She told me she wasn’t just there for herself but for the sake of her children, so she can communicate with their educators and ask them what they were learning in school. She wants to have meaningful conversations with her coworkers and be able to understand the ones who speak too fast. She wants to earn her citizenship and get her GED so she can find a job worthwhile and feel useful to society.
This is not just my student. It’s a combination of all the students at the center. They are volunteer learners, just as we are volunteer tutors, which shows that there is some innate sensor in us that desires the ability to communicate with others. Something in us desires the knowledge to possess this skill — to learn how to say “frog,” and understand what it is, how it moves, where it lives, what it eats, how long it lives, where it sleeps, why it has webbed feet and a sticky tongue, how it reproduces, and –most importantly — who we can share this new information with.
The one difference between the already educated learners and the volunteer students is their emotional state:
These volunteer students lack the proper social skills most of us don’t even think twice about and, therefore, lack confidence. This struggle hovers over them — every time they go to the grocery store; every time they ask for directions; every time they fill out paperwork, every time they go to the bank, every time they take their children to the playground.
Photo courtesy of www.kootation.com
We are all Students. Anyone who picks up a newspaper or magazine, watches the History or Discovery channels, attends a community class, picks up a new hobby, travels to other parts of the world (or country or state), reads a book, works on a crossword or Sudoku puzzle, practices their faith, studies labels at the grocery store, etc., is exercising their brain. So, really, we are all students.
But it’s people like my student (and there are many like her) who I find so incredibly brave. It can be intimidating for any adult to say to another adult that they don’t know English (whether it’s trouble with reading, writing, speaking, and/or comprehending). No matter where she was born, what language she speaks, how she came to America, how much education she has — she will always be courageous in my eyes. It takes a special person to consciously leap into becoming an asset to their community. These students should be proud of themselves, not embarrassed!
In my opinion,
anyone who challenges themselves
to expand their knowledge
is already smarter
than the “average joe.”