Wednesday, February 1, 2012

More on loving what you do

Or, why I bailed out on a worthy cause I had my heart set on. 
In addition to write and read books, Literacy Connections, which helps adults with their reading skills, was right up there, #3 on my Concepts list for retirement. 
I’d wanted to be part of it for years, had watched sadly as they scheduled the required two-day training and the tutoring sessions during my workdays. As soon as I left Bard College, I kept an eye out for the next training, and when I saw it last April, I called immediately and showed up, one of a group of about eight women.
The training was well organized, carefully done. I began to get a better picture of the current client that LC assists. I had imagined myself sitting next to an adult while he or she read to me. I would help with new words, pronunciation, comprehension. This person wanted to read, that’s why s/he had signed up. We would have fun. 
My picture was askew. We discussed instead examples of anonymous clients with no reading skills. Some could identify words, some could identify letters but not words, some didn’t really know the alphabet. 
Some had only minimal interest in acquiring these skills. They’d got along OK till now, then maybe bumped up against the need for a GED, a high school equivalency degree, in order to get a job. 
In short, I would be not a tutor but a teacher, of students who had not previously seen the value of reading. I know people who went to graduate school to become reading specialists, but in the meantime, kinesthetic was the word of the day; our lessons needed to be kinesthetic, in order to interest our students. No sitting and listening—the spotlight would be on me, the teacher, as I moved around, charmed my student, drew out him or her with new exercises and activities each week. 
I’m probably the least kinesthetic person you’ve ever met, I said to four classmates as we ate our lunches at a picnic table outside the library. They reassured me, reminding me that the LC office, right here at the Hudson library, was full of instructional materials and staffed by people who would help me develop lessons. 
At the end of the day we had an assignment for the next, final training session: choose a student from the list of anonymous examples and develop a lesson plan for a one-hour tutoring session for that student. We had been given numerous handouts, and we were encouraged to come into the office as needed for advice and more materials. 
I don’t think I can do this, I said to my classmates as we parted in front of the library. Again, they reassured me—support was there, I would develop the skills, I could do this. 
In the next 24 hours I, who have a tendency to leap into things, thought about this harder than I’d ever thought about anything. 
I had wanted to do this for years. But I have no training as a teacher. I’ve taught a few writing workshops to adults, usually in libraries. The workshops were free, but the students were motivated, library patrons who wanted to go beyond reading to telling stories themselves. 
I had wanted to do this for years. But I could see myself spending hours each week in the LC office developing a lesson plan for a one-hour tutorial and then as soon as that was over, coming back into the office to develop the next plan. I wouldn’t be a writer, or an editor, or a retired person. I would be a reading teacher. 
I had wanted to do this for years. One of my earliest school memories is sitting in a circle of little kids, reading out loud for the teacher. This was decades before Sesame Street and early reading readiness. Probably Dick and Jane and Spot were our subject matter, and I read carefully during my turn until I had to pause for a second at a new word (help!): see + s . . . sees! (Whew.) I read it and went on, but the teacher stopped me for a learning moment: Did you see what Debby did? See + s = sees. The other kids probably hated me, but it was my first professional compliment, and I’ve never forgotten it. 
Didn’t I want to pass along that pride, that pleasure? 
A few years later, in fifth grade, I was assigned to help a big tough kid with his reading. Perhaps not the smartest assignment for a shy, bookish girl; the big kid bossed me around and his reading didn’t improve. These days I’m not afraid of bullies, but my interest in people is as an observer.
Not as a teacher. 
In the end, it was visualizing the disappearance of all those hours—days—into becoming a teacher that precluded my career at Literacy Connections. I called the office and brought back the materials. The trainer was polite; better to withdraw now, she said, than after I’d been trained and assigned a student. 
If you have the time and the interest, it’s a really worthy cause. 


  1. Good for you: learning to say "No."

  2. Thanks for writing this. I've been wanting to do this for years, but something always prevented me... and now I'm not sure that it's my calling. I'd rather help people write than teach them how to read. :-)