Each month, we will share the stories of inspirational and hard-working adult literacy volunteers. The individuals who volunteer their time to teach adults to read are helping to change the world one learner at a time.
My student and I began our meetings in the Lakewood Library, and I recall how nervous I felt because I had never taught before. So, I had decided that our first meeting would be what I would call a “meet and greet.” What work did I have in front of me, and what did I have to give this shy Korean woman who wanted so much to learn English?
She shared her name, address, and the family members in her household who were present in her situation to learn to read, write, and speak English. I quickly discovered Yuan was doing this for herself, and no one else.
I recall that I introduced a reading sampler in which Yuan had to follow along and read out of a textbook that I provided. She really did very well at that point in time. She was bright, she was quick to catch on, and she was extremely educated in her country of Korea where she majored in Theological Seminary. I was very impressed right off and considered just how lucky I was to have such a gift right out of the gate for my first time teaching.
As time went along, I wondered to myself if what I was doing was enough for her? Was I leading her in the right direction? As we met time and time again, I began to notice that yes, she could read alright, but then came a head-on realization: Yuan did not understand a word of what she read. No, she could not tell you what the content of a paragraph was about.
I racked my brain, until it came to me like a lightning rod. I had to back up, I had to go slow with her. I had to sit down and question her as she read paragraph by paragraph, sentence by sentence, what was going on in the content of the story. Examples of this were, Who is Bob? Well, what did Katie do? How does Louise fit in here? She began to slowly pick up on details of a story and we worked on vocabulary, too, as well. The progress is slow, but Yuan is now excited and feels good about her reading sessions. It really is about progress, not perfection. With a guided point in reading, a student can move forward and feel real accomplishments.
My bucket list to teach has been fulfilled, and I have such joy at the privilege of being able to be there to help someone else move forward in life.