This week we are re-visiting popular a post you may have missed. Enjoy.
Before I retired, I was an elementary school teacher, then an editor at several magazines. I’ve been a volunteer at PRC for about seven years now. My first tutoring assignment was working one-on-one with a mother who had three little kids. The oldest one had started kindergarten, and the mom couldn’t communicate with his teacher. We met weekly for a couple of years. I often thought: it would be so hard to live in a country and not be able to speak the language!
One of the things I really like about PRC is that volunteers are appreciated and valued as much as the staff. A lot of places just want volunteers to raise money, not actually do anything. At PRC, volunteers run everything. That approach has kept me here all these years. Working with students makes me feel valued.
For a while, I helped a student study for the GED test. I’ve helped at the drop-in tutoring. I also coached students preparing for the US citizenship exam. Currently, I assist with a beginning level English class offered through College of DuPage and held at the PRC.
There is a huge variety of languages represented in our class. Unfortunately, typical class materials assume people have been to school in their native country and reading and writing are things they already know. Our instructor realized that some of the students were getting nothing out of the class—because they had never been to school!
Recently, I had a wonderful breakthrough. One of my students finally began to understand what reading is–not how to read, but the concept that letters make words, and when you put them on paper you can read them back. That took us a year. Now, I have fun writing down what she says and helping her read it back.
One of my students told me he decided he to learn English when he couldn’t make a gas pump work to fill up his car. Another customer at the station finally told him, there was a sign on the pump that explained it was out of order—but he couldn’t read it.
Everything my students do is ten times more difficult because they don’t know the language…going to the store…the doctor…pumping gas. They can’t get jobs; they have very limited opportunities.
We take things like going to school and learning to read for granted. This work reminds me how very, very grateful I am, that I grew up in this country with all its advantages.