Joan Allesee has volunteered as a tutor, facilitator and instructional designer for Oakland Literacy Council (OLC). Currently, she is on the Council’s board of directors. She originally wrote this column for the Association for Women in Communications Detroit chapter.
It was a hot day in August of 2014, when along with 22 other bewildered adults, I tried to read these words: mxxxxxxn, hixx, yxxx
We had come to the Oakland Literacy Council to learn how to tutor adult literacy students. I was intrigued, but also searched the room for ways to slide out unnoticed at the first break because I wasn’t sure I was up to the task.
What I did know is that I had a little time to volunteer while I reengineered my career, took graduate classes and finished raising my children.
Next, we read this passage that a student wrote to his tutor describing his day:
I bay sitd to daey my grannd kites. I wths vree hape.
We also heard literacy students tell of their plight:
- One described the heart break of having to fake reading her Mother’s Day cards. She also described her dependence on others to read street signs aloud and the struggle of memorizing landmarks to learn her way around her own community.
- Another student explained how he relied on coworkers to describe job information. At home his wife managed all the correspondence and paid all the bills. All the while, he kept his illiteracy a secret from his own children.
And then I cried a little and decided to stay. How could I leave when these adult students did not grow up reading?
My children were raised to read. We spent endless hours selecting stacks of library books and jamming them into tote bags to haul home. How was it possible for these students not to have their own favorite childhood reading memories?
I’m glad I stayed. Teaching someone to read, write and even speak English, if needed, is rewarding beyond words and by volunteering, I am helping to battle the literacy issue that we are facing as a nation. Low literacy affects 35 million adults in the United States which is 18 percent of the population.
Motivated to Do More
A few months after I began meeting with my student, I saw that the OLC could use a little more help, so I raised my hand and took on facilitating the tutor training workshop. Subsequently, I trained others to facilitate with me.
More time passed and I was working away on my graduate courses and tutoring my student each week when I had a little brain storm. I recently learned how to use software to create eLearning. So, I designed an online course for the tutors which reduced their classroom training time.
Five years have passed since I attended my own tutor training. I still volunteer as a facilitator, an instructional designer, and now as a proud new board member.