I bumped into my friend Lynn the other night as I was out on a walk.
“Are you just coming home now?” I asked. Lynn leaves early for work; I often see her heading off when I take out Miller around 6:30.
“Yes!” she said, obviously tired. “I don’t like to complain, but this is a busy time of the year.”
Lynn is a teacher, and as anyone who has kids in school or is in the education system themselves can attest, this is a busy and yet listless time of year. Teachers are tired; kids are tired. June can seem awfully long.
Lynn teaches an intense special program for kids lagging in literacy skills. To see her talk about her work is like watching a beautiful stream: alight with energy, moving, inspiring. She is so committed to the kids. They come in with nerves, shame and worry; she is dedicated to having them leave more upright and confident in what they can do. She builds bridges with the teachers that will teach her kids after they leave the program; she meets multiple times with parents to outline ways to support their kids at home after they leave her program, which is short and intense. If my kids had struggled (and they are fortunate they didn’t), I would have wanted a teacher like Lynn in their corner.
I say in their corner because lacking in literacy skills can be a fight. Knowing how to use words has power. Writing and reading are foundation skills, even with short messages via text (that’s for my teens. Last night I told them I expect them to read books this summer.). People who can read and write might not think about how their lives might be shaped if they couldn’t do so.
Imagine spending precious money on items you didn’t need or want at the grocery store because you couldn’t read the labels. That was the story of one woman I tutored. She took her eight-year old shopping with her to try to avoid this. Literacy also affects health literacy– the ability to understand health information well enough to make choices and take care of oneself and others. Literacy can impact whether life-saving medications get taken properly, or taken at all.
I think a lot of people take reading and writing for granted. Everyone can read, right? But they can’t, and this is why programs like Lynn’s are so important. Reaching kids when they are young enough to shape their skills and perhaps more importantly, their confidence in their ability to learn, is important.
As Lynn told me about the wind-up activities of her year, with an eye toward the coming year, she said (as ever) that she’s grateful for what she does, but tired in the moment. Fair enough! And many thanks.
Image: Alvimann, Morguefile