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Instructor Spotlight: Heather Tovey

October 12, 2023

Instructing and supporting the volunteer tutors in partnering with students, Heather Tovey is left in awe every day. As Butte County Library’s Literacy Manager, Heather watches tutors and students learn and inspire each other in ways that neither expected. This exchange, and watching the volunteers realize they, too, have been positively impacted through the partnership, has kept Heather coming back for 16 years.  

Meet Heather Tovey. 

The Basics 

ProLiteracy: How long have you worked with Butte County Library Literacy Services? 

Heather Tovey: I’ve been involved with Butte County Library Literacy Services since 2007 (16 years) when I began working on an early learning initiative with the literacy manager at that time. This collaboration was the beginning of a long-lasting relationship with Literacy Services, born with common goals and enthusiasm for literacy learning.  

PL: Why did you decide to start working with Butte County Library Literacy Services? 

HT: Short answer: the people. Ultimately, as the Library Literacy Manager I have the opportunity to meet and work with the most remarkable people. The devoted Library Literacy Services team, the adult learners/students, and our volunteer tutors continue to serve as the foundation for my decision to work with Library Literacy Services. Supporting and contributing to the powerful changes in a life, as someone learns to read and write, pulls us all together and ignites hope. 

I strongly believe in the mission of the program, the positive impact that it can have as students build skills, and the tutors as they realize the positive impacts that they can provide.      

PL: What do you teach and in what setting? 

HT: I instruct and support our volunteer tutors as they partner with adult learners on learner-centered goals. Pairs will work on passing the Citizenship test, addressing basic reading skills necessary to function in a workplace, English language learning, reading to their child, or whatever is immediately needed in their lives.  

About Your Experience 

PL: What have you learned about yourself by working with students? 

HT: I have learned that my energy is bolstered by the work of others as they make positive changes in their lives and the lives of those around them. I am also determined to maintain that growth mindset, which our students model for us each day.  

PL: Tell us about a favorite/impactful/memorable teaching experience. 

HT: Over and over again, the most powerful experiences have been witnessing the development of relationships that increased literacy and growth in the lives of both the volunteer tutor as well as the student. Connecting the volunteer tutor with a student and listening to the successes and moments of pure joy as they learn from one another is the best. One of my favorite connections was between a volunteer tutor, who happened to be a retired teacher, and an ESL student, who had very, very low literacy skills but wanted to study for the Citizenship test. The volunteer tutor was convinced studying for the Citizenship test was way beyond the student and [there were other goals] to be addressed. However, the volunteer tutor finally fully embraced the learner-centered approach, and not only did the student pass the Citizenship test, but both were thoroughly invested in the process and enjoyed much laughter and fun along the way. 

The volunteer tutors often step forward not realizing how much they themselves will benefit from this time with a student. Yes, the adult learner finds a better job, can proudly read their birthday card, or passes their Citizenship test, but the student has also shared with their tutor … new perspectives, hope, and a deeper understanding of cultures all based on their life experiences, both making the other’s life richer and brimming with optimism. 

PL: How do you keep students motivated? 

HT: The program is learner-centered, meaning the motivation comes directly from the goals of the learner. We provide a safe and positive environment for instruction and encouraging their literacy learning ambitions at their pace. 

The Other Stuff  

PL: Name someone who inspires you.  

HT: The adult learners we serve constantly inspire me.  

PL: Where would you go on your dream vacation? 

HT: Somewhere with my husband! 

PL: What is your favorite book of all time? 

HT: The Big Orange Splot by Daniel Pinkwater. As a former family literacy specialist, I believe picture books are comforting and often carry such important messages that stay with us forever!  

PL: Are you reading anything now? 

HT: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.

Instructor Spotlight is a monthly feature on the ProLiteracy website and blog. Nominate an outstanding instructor from your program to be featured!    

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