The Road to Literacy

February 28, 2011 at 3:56 PM | Posted in Basic Literacy, Student Stories, Teaching, Tutoring, Volunteers | 1 Comment
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I walked into the library, weighted down with materials, a loosely prepared script running through my mind and butterflies in my stomach.  The weight of my responsibility to help one man learn to read and another man teach was overwhelming.  I was on my way to meet Cleve, a dedicated tutor, and his student of six years, Fred.

Cleve contacted me about two weeks into my new job asking seeking advice on how to help Fred make progress with his reading.  I read their file and had some ‘clinical’ thoughts about how to help Cleve and Fred proceed.  We agreed that I would observe a lesson and then I would give Cleve some ideas afterward.  It sounded simple, but I was intimidated.  Cleve emailed me his detailed lesson plan in advance and after reading it, I felt certain I was not up to this task.  He seemed to already know everything I had planned to tell him.

On my way to the Martha Washington library I found myself playing through various scenarios resembling awkward dinner parties where groups of near strangers attempt to make conversation without offending one another.  Instead, I entered the small room in the library to find three old friends catching up and enjoying each other’s company.

Cleve introduced me first to his student Fred, a gentle giant of a man with a warm smile and easy laugh.  Next I met Fred’s wife Gladys, a beautiful, savvy woman who appeared to have the enviable job of reigning in Cleve and Fred’s boyish humor.  I took an immediate liking to her!  I was instantly and sincerely welcomed into their weekly ritual.  The already well-planned lesson evolved into collaboration among four adults with one common goal: to see Fred reading fluently and independently.

I wish I could say that after some simple tweaking Fred made leaps and bounds of progress in a short time.  However, achieving literacy is a long, sometimes arduous journey, and alas, there is no magic wand.  Instead, that day in the library, we all discussed Fred’s strengths and his challenges, his needs and responsibilities.  Fred shared his insights into his own mind and everyone voiced concerns, frustrations and hopes.  Fred is on a long and winding road to becoming fully literate, but he’s definitely in the driver’s seat with Cleve, his advocate and ally, by his side, holding the map.  I think I can hear them laughing as they enjoy the ride.

-Molly Chilton, Adult Basic Literacy Tutoring Specialist

1 Comment

  1. Molly,

    Your blog entry was greatly appreciated. It came as a real boost to those of us who are struggling with how to help our students improve more quickly but easily forget about the warm relationships we have developed and how our students are happy to have the opportunity to spend this quality time with us because they know that they are being nonjudgmentally supported in their literacy efforts.

    As I leave in about an hour to tutor Maria, I will keep in mind the interesting – dare I say fun? – tasks that I have planned rather than worry that she should be at some other level in her development.



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