When student Gladys was matched with volunteer tutor Pat, she could not read.
Gladys, a 65-year-old woman, could speak English perfectly, yet she couldn’t venture too far from home by car because she couldn’t read road signs. She always had to have one of her kids read her bills for her. She lived a life of dependency, restriction and isolation.
That is, until she had gotten so far in her lessons with Pat that she found she was able to do things she never could before. She could break down syllables and form the sounds of the vowels and consonants without help. She didn’t realize how far she had come until she shared with her children that she was able to bake a cake just by reading the instructions on the box.
“She never realized how far she was getting until her family members said, ‘Wait, you read that whole thing by yourself?'” Pat, Gladys’ tutor, said. “That, to me, is the greatest thing.”
Pat began tutoring Gladys a couple years ago, but she quickly became hooked on teaching. She took on another student and a group English class at the Longwood library. She attended every workshop, webinar and training on teaching adults that she could get her hands on. She wanted to be the best she could be for her students.
Pat herself is an immigrant from Barbados. She never faced a language barrier, but she knows what it’s like to try to find home in a new place. Her background is in HR, so she has seen firsthand how language barriers and low literacy can limit one’s access to good jobs and, therefore, financial freedom.
She asks her students one question in every class: What made you uncomfortable this week? Sometimes someone pipes up about their difficulty with calling to make a doctor’s appointment or filling out a job application. Recently, a student said that she got in a car accident and had no idea how to navigate the situation in English. An already frightening situation was made worse by the addition of a language barrier. Pat spent that class going over how to handle a car accident using key English words and phrases.
This lesson is a great example of Pat’s teaching philosophy: always tailor the lesson to the student, always meet the student where they’re at.
Pat’s students are eternally grateful for her time and help, but Pat has realized something that every volunteer tutor or instructor realizes at some point: she gets more out of it than she puts in. Even during difficult times in her life, her students give her the courage to keep moving forward.
“Teaching gives me something to look forward to. It allows me to get through what I’m going through,” she said. “I’m helping them and I’m helping me at the same time.”