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Tutor Training

There are a lot of things you can do to make a difference in the world. You can write a check to a cause you believe in, sponsor a child in a third world country or volunteer to help out at the yearly church or school fundraiser. I’ve done all these things and felt good about them. Like most good people, I want to do my part to make the world a better place.

There is a comfortable distance in this kind of giving because the face and situation of the needy people on the other end is something you are aware of in a removed, academic way. Furthermore, you are only involved for a limited amount of time, which makes it easy to commit and then put the issue behind you. Your efforts are just a small part of one bigger whole. You feel good knowing you did your part, but you have to trust that the organization or foundation follows through and indeed does something wonderful along the line. Unfortunately, it also means you never really know how significant the impact of your particular contribution is.  You know you made a difference . . . but how much?

When you teach someone to read, the act of volunteering is a very intimate experience. You are paired with one person with a drastic need, and their success or failure is in your hands. You can’t be sure how involved teaching any particular individual will be, so your commitment is “as long as it takes. But one thing is sure, as you continue to show up week after week, there is no question of whether your efforts are making a difference. The results are right there in front of you. You are changing a life. And because every person’s life touches so many more, your efforts create a chain reaction of positive cause and effect. For example, the individuals you teach to read usually have children and spouses. Learning to read alters how they care and provide for them. Breaking the pattern of illiteracy in a family means not only the person you are teaching today, but future generations, will have better opportunities and happier lives too. And because a non reader often can not work and doesn’t vote or function normally in our community, turning them into readers means they become contributing members of society rather than a drain –  and that effects all of us. For all you know, a student who has learned to read will now be able to understand a warning sign on the highway, which will prevent them from slamming their car into an oncoming one, so now you’ve impacted the lives a another family as well.

You see, the ongoing effect of changing the world one reader at a time is huge. But you don’t need to wonder if you are making a difference, because there is no denying the individual sitting right before you is going through a life altering experience. It is all because of you – because you care enough to sit down, get intimately involved and make right something that went wrong along the way. You are evening the imbalance of opportunity and understanding for one lucky individual.
What I’m saying is, if you really want to make a difference in the world; if you want to put a face on your cause and experience first hand what it is like to change a life forever, then teach someone to read. They will never be the same.  And guess what . . . you won’t be either.     


The other day, I trained nine new volunteers to be reading tutors. I guess I don’t need to mention how passionate I am regarding the importance of literacy. I thought long and hard about how I wanted to introduce the subject, so I started with the above lecture. I then moved on to describe my experiences with Kathy and all I’ve learned as her tutor, both about her as an individual and about the lifestyle and culture of non-readers.

I’ve been working with Kathy for two years now, so I can paint a pretty clear picture of the realities of teaching someone to read. I talked about what worked, what didn’t work; what was positive about the experience and what was a drag. Mostly, I hammered home the fact that this experience not only changed Kathy’s life forever, but my own. 

After lecturing one and a half hours, I turned the floor over to our trained educational supervisor and director head, and she discussed resources for 45 minutes. By then, we had some very excited, committed new volunteers. (I must admit, I was jealous. I never got an orientation or training or a list of resources. I was just given a student and thrown to the wolves. Luckily, I was resourceful and I stumbled through. What I learned the hard way makes me a good tutor trainer now.)

After the session, I was told I was very inspirational. One woman stopped me in the bathroom and said, “I’m so moved. I just hope I can be as good a reading teacher as you.” I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I was probably an average reading teacher, but just a good speaker. They told me others called the office the next day to rave about the training. I was pleased, because frankly, this first time, I didn’t know what to expect so I was winging it.

The fact is, I felt very comfortable in my role as teacher’s teacher, because this has been my forte for years in dance. It is all the same. Teaching others to be good teachers isn’t about drilling facts regarding the subject at hand nearly as much as it is about teaching the leaders to be good communicators and to be sensitive to the student’s mindset. To really teach well, you must be able to understand and respect a student’s needs and not confuse those needs with their short term wants or a person’s natural inclination to seek a quick fix rather than building a solid foundation. You must first and foremost teach your charge to love the subject at hand, showing them how mastering it will help them achieve their goals. Teaching is about enhanced communication and really knowing and caring about an individual on a personal level.

I walked the new tutors through a day in the life of a non-reader to widen their perspective. We discussed how and why these people have negative associations to school and how important it is to change that now. We discussed the difference between being “stupid” and “uneducated”, and how important it is to remind the student that you recognize that difference. I explained that giving tests is never testing the student, but testing the teacher, because when a student does not know something, it signifies that the information has to be re-explained or explained in another way so it can be grasped. This points out the responsibility of the teacher to do the job well, which helps the intimidated student no longer fear tests. You are acknowledging that even a teacher isn’t perfect, and success involves trial and error for everyone involved, both of you must work and learn together to achieve the goal.

I spent a great deal of time discussing that the teacher/student relationship should never become “us” against “them”, but people working together for a common goal. Students often forget you have their best interest at heart when they are being corrected all the time, so you must occasionally pause to remind them that even though it sometimes doesn’t feel that way, everything you do is in an effort to help them find success. And frankly, you need to remind yourself of that occasionally when progress is slow and you get frustrated.

Anyway, the training was a success.

What I loved best about working with dance teachers at the dance school was the feeling that I could touch the lives of more students than just the ones I had time to work with first hand. It wasn’t just because I wanted a really great school. The truth is, I loved dance, and I wanted to do whatever I could to assure others loved it too. Making dance classes a positive experience and making the introduction to dance education inspirational was my means to that end.

This project is no different. I am hoping my insight and the extra effort I put into tutor training will result in better experiences for many other new readers and their teachers. It is a way of serving the cause I believe in.     

Anyway, it felt right.

About Ginny East Shaddock

Ginny is the owner of Heartwood Yoga Institute. She is an ERYT-500 Yoga teacher, C-IAYT Yoga therapist, RCYT & Ayurveda Counselor who loves nature, gardening, and creative arts. She has an MFA in creative writing from Lesley University, and a BA in Business Administration from Eckerd College. She teaches writing and is the creator of the memoir writing program, "Yoga on the Page" combining the teaching of yoga to writing personal stories with integrity, intention, and heart.

8 responses »

  1. Of course you’d be inspiring to all of those future reading teachers!! You could probably inspire them to teach a dance class as well!!! I’m so happy that you’re enjoying yourself in Georgia! You’re still my inspiration here….. Would Ginny do that?? What would Ginny do in this situation?? Thanks for all of your help in life, I hope I can do the same and make you proud!! Pay It Forward… -Jill


  2. I always smile when I get comments like this from my old students. The truth is, you all have a lot more confidence in what I can do than I have in myself. But you are all sweet in your enduring respect.You are the third person to mention how “happy” I am in my new life this week. I am happy of course, but I have always been happy in general. Life is too short not to be. But, least you get the impression that it is possible to live the perfect life, I should remind you that I only write about those generic and non-intimate things that portray the big picture – the entertaining stuff. My life, like everyone’s, has it’s share of trial, frustration, and meloncoly. Not that I want to burst anyone’s bubble about retiring to the mountains for a life a leisure and how that is the ideal, but the fact is,  for everything gained, something is lost. And I am one who carries a shadow in her heart for what is lost too. Sometimes, I think the reason I strive to dive into new things is simply to keep myself so busy I don’t wallow on what my life is now missing – and it helps replace those holes inside with something meaningful. That is one way to cope with loss or dissapointment, you see. Not that I’m some sad sac or even complaining, for my life, like everyone’s, is exactly what I want it to be (I truly think each of us designs the life they want deep down. You can say you want something else, but our actions bespeak our true desires.)  I’m just stating a truth, a reality check for those that read and think “Gee, she is perfectly content now. I guess the past wasn’t as great or fulfilling as it seemed at the time. ” That isn’t the point. Is anyone perfectly content ever? I sincerly doubt it. But sometimes, change is necessary to break patterns that are unproductive or life is unfolding in ways that diminish your joy. But the reality check does not mean I don’t truly love life as it is unfolding. It is a matter of keeping open to new things, reminding yourself what is important to you, and not settling for anything less than a soul inspiring, growth inspiring existence. More than anything else, I attribute my happiness to enthuasiasm. I like learning new things, challenging myself, and everyday is new and undiscovered.   If I could wish one thing on the people I care about, it would be for them to capture excitement again, and to see life as the kick-ass adventure it can be. Yes, that is what I hope for each night when I go to sleep. Sending good thoughts may not make a difference to those far away, but nevertheless, I do it all the time.


  3. HA! I bet “What Would Ginny Do?” bracelets would sell like hotcakes in Sarasota right now 🙂 But fortunately for Jill, she is smart enough to actually LISTEN to the Hendrys!!!!!! And isn’t THAT what makes a good STUDENT become a teacher?


  4. Wow. I know that was written to Jill, but I felt like you were speaking directly to me. My day just got that much better. I got Mark’s voicemail this morning. I tried to call yesterday but you guys were out. I also realized that I don’t have your cell number, only Mark’s. I should have both, but Mark can give that to me. You don’t have to post it online for all to see. I told Mark on his voicemail that Scott and I are moving back to Georgia at the end of this school year. I’m a little sad to leave, but I’m looking forward to a fresh start. I’ll also be able to visit you more! We can play Sequence again. On a more serious note, though, you don’t know how badly I want to sit down and talk to you right now. We’ll have our time eventually. But in the mean time, the wine certainly did help. It was delicious! And you sent me white wine, which I prefer. I guess I’m not grown up enough to appreciate reds. I’ll get there, I’m sure. 🙂 And the soaps smell and look so beautiful. They are almost to pretty to use! Thank you again, Ginny, for the care package. It really brightened my day. You and Mark are both so wonderful.


  5. Denver, When are you gonna teach that Master Class for me?? I miss you guys… maybe I can get a few days to come visit soon!!Jill



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