Saturday, December 20, 2014

Back to Work?

For the first time in a year, I went into work.  Well, not really, but I volunteered as a reading consultant at the request of one of my former colleagues. 

This meant getting up early and getting dressed before 7:45 am!  It meant driving in what passes for heavy traffic in South Bend.  And it meant thinking about what I used to do without having to think really hard!  I prayed for wisdom and for a good experience for the man I would meet.

 I met with R and his tutor at Work One, the employment office in South Bend, where the school corporation has two adult education classrooms. R has been coming to class faithfully, is an excellent math student, and is just not making progress in reading as measured on test scores. 

I began by interviewing him and learning that his goal was to go to IVY Tech College but he cannot pass the entrance exams in reading and language.  English is his second or third language.  He had a diploma in his country of birth.  He was able to communicate orally with me well and to express his frustration with his lack of progress. 

R has lived in the United States for 12 years.  He works as a custodian at a university in town and has four school-age children. 

I found a test passage that we could read together so that I could analyze his decoding and vocabulary errors and determine how he worked through comprehension questions. I chose one on Georgia O'Keefe because it interested me.  He had never heard of her--so previewing on the basis of previous knowledge was not a possibility.  We looked through the questions at the end of the selection as "advance organizers."  We took turns reading aloud.  There were several words he could not decode in this middle school level passage and there were also words that he could not define that were essential to the meaning, such as "sculpture."  However, he answered 4/5 of the questions correctly after this exercise. 

I wrote up a report for him, his teachers, and his tutor.  When asked by one of them how it was working with me, he said, "Mary is perfect."  I had comforted myself earlier with the realization that even if I could not give him all that much help, the idea of having his teachers call in a consultant was affirming and would have its own repercussions.

I knew we had a rapport.  I was able to make specific suggestions for decoding, vocabulary, and comprehension work--and to model a session for his tutor.

But I was the one who was so touched by the process.  Here is a man who wants so badly to improve himself and it is so difficult.  I admired him greatly.

 I also am thinking that I need to keep using the skills that I have in some way as a volunteer. I'll check on R in a few weeks.  Maybe there will be others I can work with.    I had tried to work with students at the Juvenile Justice Center but gave up on trying to make it work as I went through the bureaucracy there.  Maybe after a year off, I am ready to get a bit more involved again.

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