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

Auckland City Harbour News - - NEWS -

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.’’

Photo: JA­SON OXENHAM

Open­ing doors: Lit­er­acy tu­tor Mel Shaw helps stu­dents of all ages and eth­nic­i­ties im­prove their read­ing and writ­ing abil­ity.

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