Megan Brown, a PSC staff member, interviewed tutor Sheryl and her student for this article.
I went through the PSC tutor training over 2 years ago now. My favorite part of the training was witnessing the connection between the tutor-student pairs who shared their experience with all of us undergoing the training. I was so touched, it brought tears to my eyes. When Megan asked my student and me to speak at the tutor training last September, we were both more than happy to oblige. What follows is a general recreation of Megan’s interview with us.
- Did you have teaching experience before you came to PSC?
I was never a teacher per se, but almost all of my job experience involved doing training to groups or individuals.
- How did your first meeting with your student go?
From the very beginning, I think we hit it off though it did take some time to get to know each other. We decided to start at the very beginning of the Wilson Reading System even though my student’s reading was fairly advanced for the PSC program. We were both glad we did that because we were sometimes surprised when we discovered certain things that she had never learned (like sounds letters make) and conversely surprised at some things that she just knew without hesitation.
- How long does it take you to plan your lessons?
At first it took me about 1 ½ hours to plan a lesson, but that has lessened over time. Now I’ll spend an hour planning a lesson when introducing a new step of the Wilson Reading System we use at PSC, but review lessons I can plan as quickly as 20 minutes at times.
- What do you do if your student doesn’t understand something?
I strongly believe that people learn through repetition. That doesn’t mean that I keep repeating and repeating when she doesn’t understand. If I can’t find a way to explain it, we move on and come back another time. It’s amazing how when we do that, it works when we come back to it. Sometimes I find a different way to explain, and sometimes whatever was blocking my student has shifted, and she no longer finds the lesson difficult.
- What do you do if she forgets what you taught last week?
Repeat. All lessons take repetition to really learn, so to me this is just part of the process.
- What does your student do when you are on vacation?
We may agree on a bit more homework than usual, but in general, we just take a break until I’m back.
- What’s the most challenging thing about tutoring?
Sometimes when I read the instructor’s manual on introducing a new concept, I find I’m still not clear on how to do it. The videos of an instructor going through the initial introduction of a new concept have been invaluable, as have the PSC staff.
- What’s the most rewarding thing about tutoring?
I think I get as excited as my student does when she grasps a new concept or when I witness her grasp a concept that she’s been struggling with. It has also been so rewarding getting to know her, and has taken my understanding that people who haven’t learned to read have been underserved by our educational system from an intellectual understanding to an entirely different level of understanding.
1. How did you hear about PSC?
Moraga library. I was working in an office for podiatry and a woman told me that as an adult she was learning to read better. I didn’t want to expose myself so I didn’t ask. That was a mixed opportunity.
2. Why did you call PSC when you did? (Why not last year or next year?)
It was time, the right time. Life was less complicated. It was time for me. It was the right time to be able to expose myself.
3. Had you tried other literacy programs before?
4. How did you feel coming to PSC for the first time?
Comfortable. It felt welcoming. I felt a sense of relief like I could express all the struggles I was dealing with for many years. I felt I would be shown the way to overcome my fear and lack of self-confidence.
5. How much could you read before you started with PSC? How did that affect you? How much can you read now?
In my first interview, I could read around 6th grade. I wasn’t confident that I could pursue career opportunities. I could figure out some things–wing it, to a certain point–but I missed something from the beginning of my education. I had needed glasses and didn’t say anything for fear of being made fun of.
Now I can confidently read. I would never challenge myself or pursue books, or any form of reading. I would avoid it. Now I welcome the challenge because I have the tools. I read about every day, as opposed to years of not reading.
6. Do you think people around you knew that you had a reading problem? Family members? Other students in school? Co- workers?
No. My husband knew, but he also knew I didn’t have confidence and questioned myself at any turn. He encouraged me. I found ways of achieving what I needed to.
7. What kinds of jobs have you had?
Retail, optometry (worked for an eye doctor), podiatry, real estate. I did billing for an anesthesiologist.
8. Do you do homework? How do you practice?
Yes. I make efforts to read. That didn’t happen right away. It happened as soon as I had enough tools to make me feel comfortable and with the guidance of my tutor, I ventured out.
9. What’s the hardest thing about being tutored?
I’m sure it’s different for everyone. Depends on the person you are. Basically, when you come into the program, you feel raw, like you’re exposing yourself and your insecurities. More of a mindset is what I find the hardest, feeling defensive and not wanting to fail myself or fail my tutor.
10. What’s the best thing about being tutored?
For me, it’s making a new friend. When I walked in the door, it was important to me to connect with that person who is donating their time to help a person like me. It has given me confidence. She corrects me, but done in a way that is different. It is for me, not because she wants to be right. The best part is learning and the way we’re learning. The power of the common goal also makes my tutor happy. The best part is when both of us are happy about the results, reading better, spelling better.