Tuesday, March 07, 2006

What I Meant to Write Yesterday

Welcome to Holland

Mrs. H and I have spent the past two Saturdays training to become literacy tutors through this organization. I've been itching to do some teaching lately, and we wanted to get more involved in the community, so we thought that this was a good solution. Because of the demographics of Montgomery County, the program tends to be heavily ESL, as opposed to basic literacy. The schools are pretty good here, and the region is one of the #1 destinations for immigrants, so you tend to get people in the program who don't know any English, as opposed to people who never learned how to read. We knew about these demographics, but Mrs. H really wanted to work with a native English speaker who hadn't learned how to read, anyway -- someone who the system had missed. She felt more emotionally attached to that situation, and I was for it too. Well really, I guess I didn't have an opinion either way, I just wanted her to do the program with me.

We survived through our two days of training. I put my other educational instincts on hold to make it through. It was a lot of lecture about phonics and pronunciation and other stuff that generally went right by us (the people at our table felt much the same way). For only a little bit on the first day did they actually have us practice the lessons on each other that we were supposed to do with the students. I felt a bit at a loss, and our teacher's book is fairly hard to understand. I know, though, that I'm an "in the moment" sort of teacher anyway, so I was confident that I would figure it out once we got into a real session. Really, even though I thought that the sessions could have been run with a lot more organization and more foresight into what we would eventually be doing, I still had a fun time. We sat with a table of fun people who were our age (the rest of the class was pretty old), and we managed to entertain ourselves, despite (or maybe because of) the antics of some very odd people leading the classes.

So, by the afternoon of the second Saturday, we were ready to meet our tutees. We had received some information about them on a sheet earlier in the day, but it's hard to tell what a person is like from their intake sheet of a literacy program. From reading the sheets we could see that they probably had some strong learning differences, and neither could really read or write that well. I was still very excited about the whole endeavour, though.

We had one last session where our instructor told us about more high level reading and writing techniques. It was all stuff that I had known before, so I could have been bored, but I sat there thinking about how it will be cool to help our students someday learn to read and write to a high level. We'd discuss books some day, and talk about the news paper, and think about science and all that other cool stuff. I was really excited.

And then the plane touched down in Holland. Mrs. H reminded me of that story later in the afternoon when I was processing my feelings of what it was like to meet our new students. Both of them (N is a woman and E is a man) weren't what I was expecting. -- They both are special people. They live in group homes. They have differences in the way they interact with others. They may or may not have mental retardation. It was hard. It was probably silly for letting myself get caught up into what I could do instead of what my students might actually want me to do, but that probably would have been hard. I went through a real strong reaction after we met our students. I was angry. I was anxious. I wasn't sure what I was supposed to do. I wasn't trained to be a special ed teacher in two Saturdays. I felt like I really didn't know what I was going to do, and I didn't know if I wanted to continue anyway. Luckily, I had Mrs. H around to handle all the details with our students and set up times for our meetings and stuff. I really think I was out to lunch for a bit.

It was more the shock than anything. Had we known who we were going to be given as students, I don't know if we would have requested someone else. Well, we probably would have. Even having met with them twice now, we still don't feel qualified or knowledgable to do a good enough job. But it wouldn't have been a shock. We would have known where the plane was going. I think they're both really great people. N is in a play. She has a job. She graduated from highschool. E got himself to the library on Saturday by bus. He rides around town on his bike. They're both really competent. They both deserve to learn how to read. They both deserve people to help them with that. I was thrown a bit, and I'm really suprised by how much I was. I like to consider myslef as all-tolerant and exposed to and comfortable with many different situations. And here I was reacting like an ignorant fool, and I couldn't believe myself.

I think one of my biggest fears when we met E and N was the amount of emotional work that I would need to do to carry on conversations/class. Often times when I'm interacting with people, I let the other person do that. I sit back and react to them. I let them be who they want to be, and then that draws me out. With little children, and often with people with special needs, that doesn't happen the same way. If I don't become friendly and put myself out there, then we don't interact. I recognize this, but it's really hard for me, and often it puts the fear of god in me as well. So when I met E and N, on top of everything else, my own fears of interaction made me that much more nervous about the whole situation.

Mrs. H and I processed alot after we got home. I talked out my feelings, and she had many of the same as well. (Of course, she's much friendlier than me, so doesn't have the same interaction fears that I do. You should see her with kids.) I'm back to feeling comfortable with the situation again. I think that we can do alot of good for E and N, but it's going to be a different sort of good than what I was naively expecting while sitting in class. It's going to be a real sort of good, and I think it's going to be the type of good that teaches me alot more than E or N will ever get out of this situation.

We had our first lesson last night, but I'll write about that in another post.

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