Few of Oakland Literacy Council’s tutors are as knowledgeable as Irene Sinclair, who came to the Council with more than four decades of experience in adult education.
Irene received a Lifetime Achievement Award in Adult Education from the State of Michigan in 2009. During her tenure with the Detroit public school district, she oversaw several adult ed learning centers, trained adult ed teachers, wrote curriculum, and taught both foreign-born and native-born adults with low literacy levels. She also served at the state level through appointments to the Michigan ESL Professional Advisory Committee and the Michigan Adult Curriculum Connection.
But Irene lost her job in 2012 when Detroit public schools made an abrupt change in adult education programming. Frustrated, she asked herself what she could do with her knowledge and experience. She decided to reach out to Oakland Literacy Council. “The Oakland Literacy Council welcomed me and provided immediate opportunities to help foreign-born adults learn English,” she says. “This helped ease my feeling of ‘now what?’”
“We are grateful that Irene has been willing to share her wealth of experience with the Council,” says Executive Director Lisa Machesky. “Our tutors are more skilled, and our workforce efforts are stronger, because of Irene.”
She has tutored four English language learners, three of whom have since “graduated” from our program after their reading and listening skills improved.
Irene has led training workshops for other tutors, and she mentors new volunteers individually. She stresses the importance of focused lessons that address a student’s real-life objectives and that utilize different learning styles—oral, visual, written, and kinesthetic. “Everybody learns differently,” she explains. She might use pictures, text, conversation, and role play in a single lesson. Even drawing helps the visual learner, she notes.
“Some tutors worry about boring their students,” she says. “But the student doesn’t get bored. The more we repeat, the happier they are.”
In addition to tutoring and training tutors, Irene has served the Council by helping immigrant job seekers through special workforce efforts. One is a short-term conversation group conducted regularly in partnership with the Michigan Office for New Americans for college-educated professionals who have relocated to Michigan from abroad and who face language barriers to employment. Another was a 12-hour class conducted in partnership with Oakland County Michigan Works.
Throughout her long career, Irene says, she has been fortunate to have work that is intensely satisfying. “Literacy gives people opportunities to live fuller lives,” she says. “That’s my strongest reason for being committed to adult learning.”