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Volunteer Tutors: The Lions of Literacy

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Monthly Features

Welcome to the Monthly Features section, where you can get to know your fellow tutors from all over NYC! Just WHO ARE these people you work with??
All tutors are welcome to write a feature article!  Contact your Site Advisor for more details.

Learning Piano and Learning to Read: Reflections from a CRW Tutor

posted Sep 26, 2011, 11:46 AM by Danica Draper   [ updated Sep 26, 2011, 11:47 AM ]

By Alexandra (Alex) Steedman, Tutor at the Seward Park CRW

"You’re never too old to learn" the old adage says. Taking this to heart, I decided to finally pursue a long standing dream of learning to play the piano. At the ripe old age of 42, I was ready to take on this new challenge. I rented a worn but trusty old upright, found a local teacher, and began the adventure.

It just so happens that my first few weeks of lessons coincided with another challenge — my first few weeks of tutoring at The New York Public Library. Almost instantly, I saw the parallels between what I was experiencing as a new student, and what my students must be experiencing.

There was the excitement and eagerness of taking those first steps. The bewilderment of looking at a page full of notes and wondering, "Will I ever be able to read that?" The realization that there were a few things I already knew (I played trumpet for a few years in high school) that might help me along the way. There was the need to keep my impatience in check — I wanted to be good right now, right away. But it was going to take time. It was going to require lots of practice, repetition, and perseverance.

One evening I arrived early for my lesson, and had the pleasure of hearing another adult student play. She played beautifully, almost flawlessly. I found myself thinking, "I will never be able to play like that. So what’s the point?" When she finished I said, “Please tell me you’ve been playing for 20 years!” She laughed and said, “Almost 30, actually.” After she left, my teacher said something that I still take to heart. “Don’t keep comparing yourself to others — you are doing yourself a disservice that way. Remember — it’s a personal journey.” And so it is.

Photo of Alex (far right) with her studentsPhoto of Alex (far right) with her studentsMy piano teacher, funnily enough, is also an adult literacy tutor. And he could not be better suited for it. With me he is consistently encouraging, patient, warm, and understanding. He makes me feel good about my progress, however small. He listens, and we laugh. A sense of humor can not be underrated in any tough endeavor.

And yes there are still times I want to quit piano. It is still mix of great enjoyment and reward, and hitting "walls" and dealing with frustration. But I am not ready to give up. I can actually play some easy songs now — which is a lot more than I could say three months ago, even if I still play the wrong note now and then.

As for my two wonderful students at the Library, I am looking forward to continuing the journey of learning together, for it is a mutual one.

Tutor Profile Premier! Leslie Chen

posted Apr 14, 2011, 2:48 PM by Al C   [ updated Apr 22, 2011, 9:08 AM by Daniel Falk ]

We are very excited to present the first Tutor Profile, written by Site Advisor Terry Sheehan (Tompkins Square) about Leslie Chen (Seward Park CRW).
Please feel free to click on "Comments" and add your two cents!
The original Word Document is available for download - click on "Attachments".
Meet Leslie Chen 

        Many volunteer tutors at the Centers for Reading and Writing are fans of their local libraries. For one volunteer, Leslie Chen, tutoring takes place in the FIRST library she ever used, as a first grader in the early 1990s. Leslie remembers going to Seward Park Library on a class trip, and finding it amusing that they were sitting on a rug on the floor of the huge Children’s Room. “It seemed like such a grand, formal institution, and here we were sitting on the floor.”.

        A lifelong Lower East Side resident, Leslie was impressed that she could take home books. “I come from an immigrant family and we didn’t have many books at home. My father read in Chinese, and had a few books in English. I knew that books were expensive, and hard to come by. The library gave me a chance to read books outside of school.”

        That first library experience obviously made a big impression on Leslie because she is now studying to become a librarian. She will graduate in May from St. John’s University with a Master’s degree in library science. When she started library school, she became much more aware of the variety of services offered by libraries. She thought that she would enjoy volunteering at the Seward Park Center for Reading and Writing because she had been helping non-English-speaking relatives for many years.

        Leslie says, “Coming to class is one of the things I most look forward to each week. Two hours is just not enough, so I’m always disappointed when the session ends. It always feels like we could be there for hours more. And we have so much fun! These adults take time out of their busy lives to learn, and that’s so inspiring to me.”

        One of Leslie’s students, a Guyanese woman, just got her citizenship, and it has filled that student -–and the whole group!--with excitement about tackling even more reading and writing.

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