Interview with a PSC adult literacy tutor: Colleen Brown

5 Dec

Thank you, Colleen, for taking the time to share your experiences as an adult literacy tutor for Project Second Chance. Tell us how you first heard about PSC, and why you decided to become a tutor.

I first heard of PSC on the radio, probably 5 years prior to actually signing up for the tutor training. I thought about it, off and on, over that time, and actually checked into it a couple of times, but the training sessions conflicted with my schedule. I’m a college graduate, was a CPA, and raised two boys. Our family always focused on education and reading, and that was a priority in our house. We were just very aware of the difference education makes in the quality of life. Finally, I just decided to pull the trigger and make the training happen.

PSC offers volunteer training for adult literacy tutors at their offices in Pleasant Hill. What was it like to participate in tutor training, and how did this prepare you for becoming a tutor?

The women presenting the training materials were phenomenal. I remember feeling overwhelmed and questioning my ability to tutor someone. Without really realizing it, I knew going in that I wanted to help someone who had a difficult time learning how to read (someone with a disability) rather than an ESL student. The training and materials helped me to solidify my desire. What I really love about the Wilson Reading System is that it is very structured. At the time, I felt that that was more manageable for me (I wouldn’t need to create my own lesson plans).

After you went through tutor training, you were matched up with a student. Tell us about what that first meeting with your student was like, what were the goals of your student and how did you determine the best way to achieve those goals.

I took the training in April and wasn’t matched with a student until October. I had the opportunity to tutor a student who didn’t require the Wilson Reading System, but I decided I would hold out a little longer for the type of match I was hoping for. Our first meeting was a little uncomfortable and I was nervous (and so was my student). She was at a very low reading level so our goal was to just get through Book 1 of the Wilson Reading System. (We have completed 3 books this past year!) We meet twice a week for an hour and a half. The Wilson Reading System is very structured, so we go through all the steps during each class. The student is assigned homework and my student is very dedicated with an extremely high desire to learn, so she always completes her homework and often asks for more.

Please tell us about how your relationship as tutor and student developed over time. How long have you been a tutor, and how many students have you helped?

I have been tutoring my student, my first and only one, for just over a year now, and we have become very good friends with a mutual respect for one another. Over time, we learned we could trust each other, and so now we sometimes spend too much time chatting about our lives and end up cutting our lesson short (I say this with a smile).


What have you been told by your student(s) or others about how their inability to read affected their lives?

My student has had a very difficult life. She has indicated that people have taken great advantage of her, treated her like she is stupid, and don’t want to listen to her opinions. She has been hurt terribly and has closed herself off from people. She was unable to complete a job application by herself, read information a doctor had given her, etc. After working with her for a year, her ability to read is greatly improved which has significantly increased her confidence. She feels good about herself and is, generally, a happier person.

PSC offers several different reading programs or methods which a tutor can use to teach adults. You use the Wilson Reading System with your student — please tell us what that reading program involves.

The Wilson Reading System is very structured. There are certain drills we do each lesson. New concepts are introduced and we use letter tiles, word cards, word lists, sentences, and short stories to practice and reinforce these concepts – both for reading and writing. The same steps are followed each lesson, but with different concepts. The resources provided to the tutor are very helpful, especially the tutorial DVD which shows a tutor teaching the concepts in any given book (level).

PSC has a staff of literacy assistants who provide support services for tutors and students. Please describe how the staff has helped you and your student.

The PSC staff are amazing, caring people and are always available to answer any questions or clarify any technique. A couple times a year, someone meets with the tutor and the student together to determine how things are progressing, if there need to be any changes, or give helpful ideas.

Please share with us some of your success stories as a volunteer tutor for PSC.

The assessment of the student by the staff had indicated that my student might not have the capacity to progress very far due to some disabilities she has. I’m very happy to say that that has not been the case and while we had just wanted to get through one or two books, we successfully completed 3 books and are now in the 4th book. I can’t stress enough how much my student’s confidence level has increased and how it has affected all areas of her life – including relationships.

What would you like to tell others who might be considering becoming a PSC adult literacy tutor? What are some of the ways you have been personally affected by this experience?

I would like to let anyone who thinks they might be interested in becoming a tutor but is somewhat apprehensive about it, know that technically it is not that difficult and you will have all the support you need. You do need to be patient and encouraging. I have personally been amazed at the transformation in my student and am humbled when she tells me how I have helped to change her life – it goes beyond just reading. This experience has been a real blessing to me.

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