Naheda, a Kurdish refugee who knew no English when she came to the U.S., wrote: “I have a teacher. She is teaching me English. Now I can talk to people, answer the phone, work at a job, help my children with homework and I know how to spell some words!”
Robert couldn’t read one question on a test he had to pass or he was out of the union, out of a job and out of luck. After 11 months of hard work, he scored 97 on the test and increased his pay from $9.25 to $20.50 an hour. He kept his job.
These student testimonials from the TALC website say it all – stories of student learners looking to improve their lives with the help of caring tutors. For some of the students, English is their second language, while others are native English speakers, but for whatever reason never had a chance to master reading or writing. This is why the non-profit, volunteer organization TALC exists as their lodestar – to guide them in a transformation of their lives one person at a time through free one-on-one tutoring.
Chris Egan is treasurer of TALC. He started tutoring during his two decades in the military, stationed in Hawaii. Retired now, he re-entered the world of tutoring because he simply enjoys it and it makes him feel good to help others succeed.
“I’ve always liked the concept of teaching adults to read and write in English if they don’t have that skill or their skill is low,” he said. Egan noted that a huge number of adults from all walks of life in Pierce County are functionally illiterate, meaning that they can’t read or write but still somehow manage to function. From road signs and prescription bottle instructions to job applications and bank statements, these adults somehow get by in life without being able to read, but Egan and his fellow tutors want more for them than just getting by.
The students who Egan teaches are mostly second-language learners who have some familiarity with English, and oftentimes are very well educated in their own language, whether they hail from Argentina, Romania or anywhere in the world. For example, one of his students is an industrial engineer trained in their own country but are seeking to hone their skills in reading and writing English. This is not uncommon, as each student has his or her own life story and desire to reach a specific goal, whether that be to get their driver license, read to their grandchildren or secure that chance for promotion on the job.
“You figure out what level they are at and you bring them up to their goal,” as Egan explained it. “It’s all about their goal. They’re eager and really want to learn English the best they can.”
TALC Secretary Lois Benedetti is also a retiree who started working with TALC about 10 years ago, as she has a zest for reading and had done some teaching in her past.
“I just always thought that it was very sad that an adult couldn’t read and there is no greater gift you can give them,” she said. “It just hampers so much of your existence and I thought it was an important thing to do.”
Benedetti said that constructing written sentences in English can be more difficult than speaking it, so she encourages her students to write, perhaps keep a journal. She also helps them with math via word problems so that students get experience with both challenges. The first student she tutored was from Panama and taking classes at Clover Park Technical College. She then went to Bates Technical College and became a phlebotomist. These are the types of success stories that inspire Benedetti to do what she does to help hardworking people achieve their goals. Another student of Benedetti’s took a pair of shoes back to the store and accomplished the entire exchange in English, successfully leaving the store with a brand new pair.
“She was ecstatic,” Benedetti said.
Of course, the funny times are memorable too – like trying to explain “dating leftovers” in the refrigerator. What are “leftovers?” And you date them?! “I had to laugh,” Benedetti recalled with a chuckle.
Both Egan and Benedetti emphasized that there is a huge need for tutors (there is a waiting list of students eager to get started) and you don’t need to come with knowledge of certain fields of study.
“If you like to read and you’re interested in people, tutoring could be for you,” Benedetti said. “Most people who are interested in this are fairly knowledge and able readers and writers but you don’t need to be a teacher or anything like that.”
Egan agreed. “It’s a wonderful way to reach the public who anxiously want these skills,” he said.
Learn more at www.TacomaLiteracy.org.