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Lessons Learned in Adult Education - The Tutors

One of my past students asked me one time, “Where do your tutors come from?” My answer was they were just ordinary people who want to help and volunteer their time. They want to try and make a difference in other people’s lives. She thought about it for a moment and told me she thought I was wrong. She said, “I think they are angels.” I now agree with her, I think they are.

I have often said I have the best job in town. I get to meet all of our students and all of the tutors and they are all nice people. From my position, I get to see all of the progress they make together and be inspired.

The tutors are some of the most giving people I have ever met. Many have become good friends of mine and I’ve been blessed to know them. I would love to list them all but I would surely leave someone out and regret it. One of them, Penny Irwin made a video for us a few years ago that told how she had volunteered to change someone’s life and ended up changing hers. Check it out here. These people are more than just volunteers, or teachers, they are role models, mentors, and often friends with their students for years.


One of the really cool things that happen is when someone comes in as a student and leaves as a tutor, helping others as they were helped. It shows almost everyone can help someone. Even though they are learning themselves sometimes the best person to teach someone with a specific problem is someone who shares that problem but is just a little further along. One of our instructors in our English conversation group was a student in that group a few years ago.

A favorite story of mine was when I matched a student up to tutor a man with Downs Syndrome. The challenge was to teach him colors so he could get a job to help with his social skills. They would meet twice a week for an hour and I noticed they were having a great time, lots of laughing, singing, and all kinds of carrying on I didn’t recognize as education. I began to question the wisdom of matching these two together. Then one day I was called to the room with them. I was excited, hopefully, he was going to demonstrate he had mastered colors.

Instead, he read a sentence to me. I was stunned and as soon as he left I went to her and said how did you do that? She explained that she had used music and rhymes and made learning fun for him. I learned a lot that day. I learned to rely on the judgment and creativity of my tutors and not to stress the set curriculum.

Then she said they were working on coloring. Why I asked and she explained that’s how we learn the motor skills needed in writing which was their next project, learning to write his name! By the way, that student was the one who thought tutors were angels and she certainly was to her student.

So to all of you who have tutored thanks for being someone’s angel. Thanks for allowing me to be a small part of what you do.

I did promise in an earlier post that I would tell about the only volunteer I “fired.” She was a tutor and a very nice professional person, well respected in Kokomo. She was working with a single mom who was struggling terribly. She was alone, trying to support two children by working and improving her literacy skills.

Then one day the tutor said that she deserved to be in her situation. She told me that unlike her student she had studied hard in school, made all the right decisions, and was rewarded with a good job, family, and life. But her student had made less than smart decisions and she was getting her reward as well. I thought about it and had to say I don’t think you are the right tutor for her and I will call you when I have a more deserving student and that was it.

I was determined to make the Literacy Coalition a place of second, third, fourth, or more chances for anyone willing to put in the time or effort. I hope I have succeeded at that.

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