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Tutors Learn As Much As Their Students

During National Mentoring Month, we are hosting guest posts about mentoring. Our final guest post this month is from Literacy Volunteers of Charlottesville/Albemarle.

Meet LVCA Tutor Ginny Zeller and JT, her basic literacy student

After retiring from 29 years of practicing corporate law in Minneapolis, Ginny Zeller and her husband decided to retire to Charlottesville in 2011 to be closer to their daughters—one here in Charlottesville, another in Somerset, Ginny was looking for something to do. Having volunteered briefly with a literacy program in Minneapolis, she thought she’d try it again here, with Literacy Volunteers of Charlottesville/Albemarle.

“I had a really good, strong, English program…I was exposed to strong fundamentals,” Ginny says, explaining that she went to a Catholic school and spent much of her primary and secondary education diagramming sentences and learning Latin. “This seemed like a good way to pay it forward.”

Shortly after completing training, Ginny was paired with JT, a basic literacy student who had recently retired and wanted to improve his reading skills. “I went through school and I could sight read, but I was very poor at spelling and reading. I decided I really wanted to read the Bible,” JT says, adding that neither of his parents were strong readers either. “It goes from one generation to the next generation. I tell young people to think. You got the opportunity, you got tutors, you got summer school—when I was going to school we didn’t have all that.”

JTGinnyWhile Ginny was nervous before her first session with JT—as most new tutors are—she felt quite prepared by the training and the materials Program Director Deanne Foerster provided her. “The Laubach series for adult learners provides you with structure. It’s almost like a lesson plan,” she explains.

JT has been very pleased with his progress over the last year. “Ginny pushes me…and gets me to the next step. She is really trying to understand me and I think we worked out a good bond of friendship with one another.”

The feeling of friendship is definitely mutual. “He’s just a great person, open to learning,” Ginny says of JT. They began their work together focusing on reading comprehension then moving into short writing activities. Ginny has found that doing short dictation activities provides them with a way to review material from prior weeks—for instance, by incorporating words with specific sounds they may have covered—as well as developing JT’s writing fluency. They also incorporate short sentence, paragraph, and essay assignments and review them together—a goal JT set for himself as part of his desire to have a more active role as a deacon at his church.

“I’ve been reading the Bible in church, but there are still has a lot of hard words,” JT says, “but I have been working at it. [Ginny] helps me with the words that I don’t know…and it is making me grow.” He credits Ginny’s mix of patience and high expectations with his progress, which has given him confidence to read out loud more fluently and with confidence.

Ginny and JT both feel it’s important for new tutors to see tutoring as a partnership. “Have it be collegial, ask questions, see what interests them. Have a plan that is something you are figuring out together,” says Ginny.

“You got to have patience with the [student],” JT says, adding that it’s also important to not be too lenient. “I tell Miss Ginny, don’t be too easy on me, be a little hard. I want the hardness, that’s what makes you go.”


Guest post by: Literacy Volunteers of Charlottesville/Albemarle


To learn more about Literacy Volunteers and more than a dozen other local organizations seeking new mentors and tutors, visit the United Way Volunteer Center's website CvilleVolunteer.org

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