Literacy means so much more
There are lots of reasons why someone might struggle to read and write, but choosing to go back and learn how is not always easy. Reporter Karina Abadia went to meet a literacy tutor. DAILY GRIND
The first students Mel Shaw taught after completing her studies as a literacy tutor was a group of Ethiopian women who could barely write their own names.
The enormity of the task might make some people run a mile but it made Ms Shaw fall in love with the profession.
The change in the women’s lives was huge, she says.
‘‘They were able to hold their heads up, look me in the eye and articulate their feelings. That’s something you can’t quantify with an assessment or a test.’’
The Avondale resident works at Adult Literacy Tamaki Auckland. The main branch is in Glen Innes but there is also one in Freemans Bay where Ms Shaw is the head tutor.
The profession appealed to her because her father was a high achieving businessman and dyslexic so she knew problems with literacy should not be a barrier to success.
In 2007 she completed the four-week intensive training course known as the Certificate in Adult Literacy Tutoring Level 5 which is run by Literacy Aotearoa.
As part of her training she volunteered at Welsey Community Centre for two years before joining Adult Literacy Tamaki Auckland in 2009.
Ms Shaw, 38, teaches on the Stepping Up course, covering all spectrums of literacy; speaking, listening, reading, writing, numeracy and computer skills as well as job skills and study pathways. The demand for support into study and employment has increased substantially in recent years, she says.
The age of the students in her current course varies from 18 to 54 years old. Building rapport is paramount.
‘‘It has got to be an equal, trusting relationship because often healing has to happen. A lot of our learners have had really negative experiences with the school system.
‘‘Their literacy problems are often due to gaps in their school life, being moved around a lot, sickness, poverty or because they have learning difficulties.’’
But not everyone who enrols has a low level of literacy. Middle management staff also access classes in order to improve their report writing.
People sometimes feel deep shame when approaching the organisation but it is amazing how being among peers can help them overcome their limitations, she says.
Ms Shaw is hugely proud that two thirds of her learners have found fulltime employment and that a couple have gone on to tertiary study.
‘‘That’s the gift. We actually make a huge difference in people’s lives with just a few hours of study a week.’’
Opening doors: Literacy tutor Mel Shaw helps students of all ages and ethnicities improve their reading and writing ability.