Wednesday, March 9, 2011

If You Build It, They Will Come

This is my mantra these days as we're getting our volunteer tutor program up and running at the Adult Learning Center.  Right now I feel a bit like Sisyphus with his boulder as we make small bits of progress towards helping our adult learners work more effectively towards achieving their educational goals.  Last week we ran three mini-tutor training sessions for our new tutors, one for teaching math, one for teaching English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) and one for teaching reading to adult basic ed students.  It was quite a bit of work to train a handful of new tutors, but overall I think it went well.  

One "highlight" for me was spending three hours in a dark hallway over a hot copy machine photocopying, collating and stapling the materials for the tutors.  (Where is that assistant when I need one?  Oh, right, I am now in the non-profit world where we don't have such luxuries!  Next time, though, I am going to go to a different location where I can at least work with a copy machine that will do the collating and stapling for me!)    An actual highlight was giving the training session myself on teaching reading to adult basic ed students.  I thought that the woman who taught the math portion was going to do this as well but during her session she kept saying things like, "I'm looking forward to hearing what Nanette has to say about working on reading tomorrow night." or "I don't have many reading resources so I'm interested in what Nanette has put together."  Thank goodness the reading session wasn't the first night or I definitely would not have been prepared!  

I find that I am quickly getting over any sort of fear about speaking in front of people and it is actually a lot of fun to share ideas with tutors about working with their students.  I remember how intimidating the prospect was to sit down with my student for the first time.  Not having any training as a teacher--or as a parent since most people have at least worked with their kids on their school work--it was scary to have someone sitting across from me looking for the answers.  In fact, when I went through my training at Literacy Volunteers of Union County to learn how to tutor, I actually became more concerned with each session that I was getting in over my head.   So, one of my goals is to help people come up with a solid plan for their first session with their student.  The primary objective is to get to know one another a bit and lay the groundwork for working together.  I am looking forward to talking to the new tutors to find out if we were successful.

I am now on to matching tutors with students, which is quite a complicated task.  I have not quite figured out the best way to do it but have created a form for our students to fill out that has information about their schedule, interests and goals.  I am lucky to have instructors who can work with their students to complete the forms (and who will be available as a resource to our tutors!)  Again, I am quickly developing a greater appreciation for the work that larger literacy programs like LV-UC do in putting tutors and students together.  They train 30 people at a clip.  I only have eight tutors to match and it is a bear to coordinate schedules and preferences of the tutors.  We have 30+ ESOL students who want to work with a tutor and only four tutors who have expressed an interest in working with an ESOL student.  I am fortunate to have one tutor who has experience teaching ESOL (he volunteered with an English language immersion program in Costa Rica) who is going to take on a group of eight beginning ESOL students.   That still leaves me with a bunch of students who have been told about the possibility of having a tutor who are going to be disappointed, and that's only on the ESOL side.    

This is where the "if we build it, they will come" mantra comes into play.  Although there aren't a huge number of new tutors getting started, we are actually doubling our tutor base.  (This sounds much better!)   Once we have a system in place for training tutors and matching them with students, we can spend more time getting the word out about the need for tutors for our adult students.   If we make the experience a positive one for the tutors--by providing resources and support and the occasional opportunity to socialize with the other tutors and instructors--hopefully their friends and family will want to get involved.  And as the "season" here in Southwest Florida starts to wind down, the schedules of our year-round residents will free up a bit so I'm hopeful that we will be able recruit a few more people to the tutor ranks before I head up to Nova Scotia in June.   Wish us luck!   

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