Every couple of months, my former reading student, Kathy, gives me a call just to say “Hi”. Not much changes in her world, but I appreciate her keeping in touch. After several years devoted to helping her learn to read and being a compassionate cheerleader as she gained control of her life, I can’t help but worry now about what might happen as various positive influences drop away and she goes it alone. When she calls, I usually invite her to lunch and we go out, but there isn’t much to say any more. I ask how she’s doing, and she always paints an upbeat picture (because she has a very positive nature) but her life is still a struggle. She asks about my world, but due to the nature of our relationship, I don’t share much. After a few minutes, we fall into silence.
I ask about her reading, and she confesses that she could use a brush up lesson, but we never really plan anything. She insists she’s using what she learned from me, and always has an example to share, such as a note sent home from school that she responded to all on her own, but it is clear she hasn’t any desire to progress further in her literate journey. She reads only as much as is required to struggle through forms and/or messages from school.
She joined a drama club at church, but told me the director reads the plays to her and then encourages her make up her own lines for her role. “That makes it easy,” she said. I nodded as if that was lovely, but inside I wanted to reach out and take her by the shoulders, look into her eyes and say, ‘You can read those lines yourself. Dig in and do it.” But I remained silent knowing this is something that has to come from within her, not me.
She often comments that she might want to start up our tutoring sessions again, but I know it isn’t because she wants to learn more.She just misses sharing time with me.
The other day, she came into the studio for the first time.I showed her around and she paused in the lobby to look at everything hanging on the walls. Her eyes landed on the dance pictures of former students and me and exclaimed how impressive they were, but her eyes skipped all the articles. I know she’s capable of figuring out what the headlines are, if not the long text, but it is clear Kathy still has selective vision. She blanks out the written word, focusing on images to understand things. A literate person recognizes key words and when that peeks their curiosity, will read at least a few lines of an article, but words still don’t register with Kathy unless they are presented as mandatory reading. If she deems a message important, she will make a concentrated effort to sound out the letters. As you can imagine, this keeps reading a chore rather than a natural and/or enjoyable skill. Who can blame her for avoiding it.
I devoted more than two years to helping Kathy learn to read, but while I wish I had left her more skilled, I wouldn’t say I’m disappointed by this outcome. I know I’ve improved her life and self esteem drastically, and I was a friend when she really needed one. But I can’t help but wonder if she wouldn’t have done better with someone more qualified – someone trained in elementary education that might have presented the information in a way that anchored in better. Then again, I know Kathy well enough I can honestly say she probably wouldn’t have lasted more than a month or two with a more formal teacher, so considering that, I was likely the best person for the job. Still, I’m left with an unsettled feeling, as if I fell short of the goal for us both.
I invited Kathy to come take a yoga class anytime on me, and handed her a schedule (which naturally, she didn’t bother to glance at.) She admitted she had no idea what yoga is, so I tried to explain it in terms that she would find appealing. She said she would definitely try a class someday, but she hasn’t shown up, and I seriously doubt she ever will. I’ll call her at the end of the season and invite her to the recital, because I know that is something she’ll enjoy. Meanwhile, we’ll continue to keep in touch, but I think my involvement in literacy, at least my Kathy project, is a closed book. Or perhaps it is more accurate to say it’s a book that never got really fully opened.
It is what it is, but still, it kills me. I just wish I did more . . . or better.
So, now I am turning my literary interests (and the MFA) to a new area. I’m spending today preparing my “Journaling for Deeper Awareness” class which begins next Wednesday. Several enthuasiastic adults have registered for the course, and I’m hoping for more participants this week. I’m deep in the throws of research and planning now to assure this will be a truly inspirational class. It’s really important to me and I’m absolutely delighted that I’ve created an opportunity to teach writing at last. I plan to use these FLEX courses to refine my skills as an educator (in writing) in hopes of becoming an adjunct teacher in a college one day. (50 years old and still dreaming. Somebody shoot me.) but mostly, I’m looking forward to sharing what I love with others, opening new doors that just might lead students to personal insight and creativity. You gotta hand it to me, I believe whole heartedly in what I do. As a teacher, I think that is as good place to start as any.