I have been a volunteer tutor in adult literacy programs for many years, at Literacy Delaware for the last twelve. During that time, I have learned a lot about myself, my community and the variety of people in it. Here are some of my most interesting or memorable experiences.
When I first trained as a tutor, my eyes were opened to the great need there was amongst the adults in my community. I had always been a good reader and took it for granted, not thinking about how difficult life is for those who read not at all, or not well enough, to hold a decent job, understand medicine labels, help their children in school and enjoy a good book. Many of these people have developed coping skills to hide their illiteracy from family, friends and coworkers thus increasing the stress in their lives and have shown great courage in coming forward to ask for help.
Another facet of the problem is those who are literate in their own native language but struggle with English. As an immigrant myself, though an English-speaking one, I have some appreciation of the difficulties immigrants face adapting to a new environment and culture.
I taught for five or six years in a program connected with Wilmington Head Start. Parents, mostly mothers but some fathers, of the Head Start students came to English class after dropping off their children in the morning. There was a wide range of language skills but all the learners worked hard to improve their English for the benefit of their families. Many stayed with the program for several years and gained confidence in navigating their new environment.
One of the learners from the Head Start classes continued to study with several different Literacy Delaware tutors towards a GED. I was pleased to be able to help her through the last couple of years of that effort and was as excited as she was when she passed the final test. She is now a valuable member of her community volunteering her time to help others and can contribute to her children’s education. She is a good friend.
I have also had the opportunity to help several learners work toward citizenship. Having gone through the process myself I was aware of how intimidating it can be. Not only is there a requirement to speak English but also to learn a significant amount of civics, not an easy task. In addition, it is necessary to provide a great deal of personal background information and to be able to discuss it with the examiner. I had a student from Venezuela who was working for an oil company and was able to get his citizenship which greatly expanded his job opportunities and his contributions to his adopted country.
Sometimes learners at Literacy Delaware have a need to improve their math skills as well as their reading. This may be a requirement for entering a training program or the military or just to increase confidence in their financial dealings. I taught a small group basic math for a year or two and, while none of the group became a math wizard, I believe I made a difference in their lives.
In total, I have worked with many students with different backgrounds and abilities, and with different needs. Most of them have been people I would never otherwise have got to know and that would have been my loss. Some have had great successes and others not so much but I like to think that I have made a difference in a small way. I like the saying ‘It’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness’.