A different side of life … or what I learned at the literacy conference
As a freelance writer, author, and whatever additional job titles I give myself to describe a loosely self-assembled career, my strongest qualification for the services I offer is that I was born in an English-speaking community in the U.S. of A.
Sure, I can recite a few grammar rules and look up many more in The Chicago Manual of Style, but my go-to “system” for writing is based almost completely on how it sounds to me.
So it is with great humility that I describe what I experienced at the Road to Literacy Conference sponsored by the University of Illinois at Chicago Center for Literacy on April 18. It showed me that there are lots of people who care more about helping others than earning top dollar.
In my own day-to-day life I am immersed in the intertwined worlds of marketing, copywriting, the internet, endless advertising and email floods, and coaching—all of them clustered under the big umbrella of endless self-promotion. The media feed me a steady stream of divisive political positioning when I elevate my tastes to tune into the news instead of the Kardashians. What I am describing here is quite different from the rest of my life.
In many ways the event was messy. It brought together the widest variety of people interested in literacy that you could imagine.
There were Ph.Ds in education, managers of community social service agencies, reps of agencies serving specific nationalities and demographics, literacy professionals, and volunteer literacy tutors.
And there were literacy students who have come from all parts of the world as well as lifelong American citizens with minimal reading skills.
The sessions were not segregated between teachers and learners. Everyone picked his own interest area and crowded in. Every session had people standing or sitting on the floor.
Making the whole thing even more chaotic was that different cultures have different styles of group participation. The instructors expected that we would work our way around the room with each person contributing an answer in turn, but many people answered each question aloud in an informal chorus.
So sessions on how to teach pronunciation of English-language sounds and how to format worksheets, most with group exercises, didn’t just communicate technical information but broadened our exposure to all the inhabitants of the literacy world.
What I didn’t know about immigration issues
The only session I attended that was not packed to the gills was one on the legalities of legitimizing illegal immigrants for work, education, and citizenship purposes. (I admit that I attended this session only because the other rooms were too crowded and didn’t allow more to enter.)
I assumed that this session was Hispanic oriented. This assumption was warranted, considering that the last-minute speaker had been provided a PowerPoint in Spanish that he translated for us.
I had also assumed that primarily Hispanics would be concerned about this issue.
Not true. Diverse demographics were well-represented in learning how to advise people with really knotty problems.
Here’s what I learned about illegal immigration. First, it’s complex and the laws and regulations can change at any moment. Plus these laws allow for lots and lots of interpretation in their implementation.
Second, there’s a Catch 22 in the whole thing. You have to maintain electronic and/or print documentation of your presence in the U.S throughout your residency if you hope to participate in any residency or citizenship opportunities down the road. Meanwhile, this same breadcrumb trail can get you deported.
In other words, if you are advising these immigrants, you have to explain the risks and allow them to make their own decisions. (Wealthier people would say what we self-employment coaches tell clients: Consult your attorney.)
What did all this cost?
It cost $20 and included a nice catered, boxed lunch.
Every day I read articles on how to do personal and business coaching. They warn that if you don’t price your services and products at sky-high prices, you are harming your clients. They won’t value your services, they won’t stay motivated, and they won’t do the work.
Furthermore, you won’t be able to take enough vacations, leaving you pathetically depleted, even physically ill, and unable to help anyone at all.
Apparently these literacy folks didn’t get the memo. They appeared to be well motivated despite the low fee. (However, I concede for some attendees, $20 may have been quite a stretch and sufficiently “motivating.”)
Have you considered becoming a literacy tutor?
I have been tutoring off and on for nine years and find it to be such an enriching experience. Adult students are working, raising families, using public transportation, going to the hospital and the doctor, and building lives in America from a starting point of minimal English skills. Think what it must be like to live an independent, adult life when you can barely communicate with other people.
Several months ago I helped my student’s husband write a flyer to publicize his landscaping business. It was a simple half-sheet of paper, no Unique Selling Proposition or elegant branding, with merely a bulleted list of services and a phone number.
What, no list? How can anyone market anything without that all-important list?
He does it.
How will he ever find time for marketing? Isn’t he too busy? Too tired? Too engrossed in his annual plan and collecting new metrics and reading his email and studying the competition and thinking outside the box about what landscaping will be like 20 years from now?
He gets his marketing done despite much harder physical labor than I do.
How to get started as a tutor.
The first step is to go to Google and search for the name of your community and “literacy volunteers.” Make a phone call or two or send an email to the organization you identify.
They will help you take the next step, guiding you to low-cost training and advice on how to work with your student. You don’t need to know the native language of your student—some agencies prefer this type of mismatch so the conversation doesn’t lapse into the other language.
You will get more than you give. For instance, a new perspective on life.
Originally posted 4-21-15