Literary Volunteers of Delaware and Otsego Counties
Teaching Essential Skills
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Volunteers' Stories

“WOW-ing” Her Students

Like many of our Literacy Volunteers tutors, Celia Reed is an educator who, soon after her retirement, was longing for that satisfying teaching feeling again. A Special Education elementary school teacher for 15 years and then a trainer of Special Ed teachers, she felt that she truly missed the kids she used to instruct each day, so she wanted to start back up again--but in a different direction. Once she found out about the Literacy Volunteers of Otsego and Delaware Counties tutoring program for adults lacking basic literacy needs, she knew that this was a great opportunity to work with people who really want to work hard regularly to build their skills.

Celia was matched with several motivated students from the Oneonta Job Corps Academy and instantly knew that this new path of instructing would be extremely rewarding. Typically, the students she was paired with already spoke several different languages and now were focused on learning English as their main goal. She explained that it was enjoyable to help develop their English and basic reading skills because of their dedication and goal-oriented mindsets.

Celia sets out to “WOW” her students; she wants to surprise them with books and any other type of reading material tailored to their interests. “I enjoy finding things to engage and intrigue them. Sometimes they just want to get through things and I think a big part of being literate is wanting to read and getting them to understand what a wonderful world of literature is out there,” said Celia, enthusiastically.  Although many students are motivated and excited, we all know it’s easy to get frustrated trying to learn a new skillset. When Celia encounters a reluctant reader, she knows she just has to listen carefully and keep going to figure out what reading material they’ll like best, and then she can finally say to herself, “This is great! I got em’.”

Celia expressed how much she has learned from her students, just as many other literacy volunteers have, as tutoring is always a two-way process. She especially loves teaching students of different native languages because they come from such different backgrounds and open her up to a world of information and stories. Each time Celia and her students meet, they create a student-tutor bond that someone could only come to know from volunteering.

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The Joy of Tutoring

by Karen Given, Tutor and Tutor Trainer

Tutoring is such a positive part of my life that it has become almost a necessity.  The personal benefits that I reap are entwined with my sense of identity, purpose, and fulfillment.  My reasons are hard to describe, but studies have shown that people who volunteer boost their own immune systems in ways that enhance health and wellbeing.  I know that I am a healthier, happier person because I am a tutor. But what causes that and why?

When I reflect on the many years I have belonged to Literacy Volunteers of Chenango County, one main image stands out: the “snapshot” of the one moment I have shared with all of the students that keeps me coming back for more.

During the get-acquainted period with each new student, there is a magical moment when all the talk about “partnership” in the training finally makes sense, when the time and energy that you have spent pays off, and when the student has made enough progress that you know that things will be okay.   It is when the student has become relaxed and confident enough to crack a joke and the two of you laugh so much that your sides ache.

The most recent example happened with a young girl who is learning English as a third language. She is bright and learns quickly, but learning a new language is difficult, and it takes a lot of time before one has command of enough vocabulary to make another person laugh. I had found a book with simple pictures that showed simple actions to help her practice using prepositions.   The pictures on one page showed a hand holding an apple, putting the apple into things, taking it out, and moving it--not an intellectual challenge for this girl, but she surely needed the language practice!  After she described a number of pictures, she said, “The man is putting the apple IN the bowl...finally!”  She said “finally” with just the right intonation and tone.  She smiled, we laughed, and I was able to say that ...finally...she had turned the corner and was on her way to perfecting her English.

It was the smiling and laughing that made us both so happy that day, and it is what makes tutoring a joy and, for me, a life-enhancing experience.