Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Bloggers Unite: International Literacy Day - Being a Reading Tutor

While I was still a full-time seminary student, I enjoyed one of the best jobs I've ever had.  I was a reading tutor for (primarily) second and third grade students at a couple of the local elementary schools in the Pasadena area.  For about 10 hours a week, I would go to the classroom, ask for a particular student who was part of the program, and the student and I would read together just out in the hallway.

The way students were chosen for the program was perhaps not what one would expect.  I wasn't given the students with the greatest difficulty, as it was assumed that the teachers would already be devoting a disproportionate amount of time with those students.  Instead, I was assigned students who were just on the cusp below "average" for the class; children who might "fall through the cracks" because the teacher's attentions might be elsewhere.  The hope was that, by giving these students just that little bit of extra personal attention (averaging about half-an-hour per student per week), they would be able to bring their reading skills up to their grade-appropriate level.

For the most part, we used pre-prepared materials provided by the program. These were categorized by reading level.  We would go through each book multiple times, until the student was able to read through (or, just as likely, memorize, especially at first) the book on his or her own.  We would then nudge upward to the next level.  By the end of the year, the student would often have successfully worked through all of the material provided by the program, and so I would then improvise.  One of the goals of the program was to encourage students to enjoy reading, and so I considered it completely appropriate to share some Uncle Scrooge comic books during our reading times as a "reward" for doing so well (I used Don Rosa's "The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck" the most.  Ironically, I actually consider this material to be geared for an even older reading level, but the kids enjoyed it enough, even when I had to help out, that I feel I was doing my job).

Although I was assigned new students each year for the two-and-a-half years I was involved in the program, I got to know my students pretty well.  Quite a number of them were young boys whose fathers were no longer a part of their lives for whatever reason, and so they benefited from having a male mentor, at least for that short time.  Indeed, I felt a bit guilty when, after ending my full-time status as a seminary student (the tutoring was part of a work-study program, and I was thus no longer eligible to participate) and taking a full-time job at the seminary (thereby making me unavailable even to visit the school during school hours), I was no longer able to check in and see how my young friends were doing. 

Sadly, it's been about 10 years now since I've had that job.  That means that the students that I worked with should now be entering (or already in) college.  I can only hope that my efforts have helped them to succeed in whatever interests their life has given them.

Today is International Literacy Day. It has been celebrated on September 8th every year since 1966.  If you want to find out more, and to read reflections on other blogs dedicated to this event, check out this link.

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