Last update: 06-Dec-2013 4:49 am
Friday, December 06, 2013
Trinidad & Tobago Guardian Online
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First day experience at Alta a challenge
“When I reach by the door and I see how many people in the classroom I wanted to die because I say, ‘Oh gosh, all these people would know about my problem. I can’t take this.’” Susan Clarke, Alta graduate.
Adult literacy learners must face several challenges on the way to the classroom, the first, and perhaps most difficult of these being mustering up the courage to register themselves for class. Taking the step to register means that the potential student has, to some degree, confronted self-doubt, negativity from family, friends and society-at-large, and even financial constraints.
A very close second to this registration hurdle is the walk into the classroom. Alta founder Paula Lucie-Smith recalls noticing a young man walk past the door to her class going in one direction, then shortly after walking by in the opposite direction, only to make another pass some minutes later. On each pass he would glance in. Only when she went out to walk with him did he manage to make the turn at the door to enter the classroom.
That ‘first day at school’ feeling that encompasses a tinge of excitement swamped by uncertainty about the material, your peers and teachers is familiar to almost all of us. What follows is a look at the unique “first day” experience of entering an adult literacy class, as related by Alta students.
Entering an Alta classroom is often an eye-opener. Students come to find that there is a very diverse group of people who are in the same place they are—taking their first step to tackle the challenge of reading and writing. Presencer Smith-Watts, who began attending Alta classes in middle age, recalls her experience: “I went. I was ashamed, I was fearful, because I say, ‘…what people would say?’ ‘Big woman like you can’t read? You have children!’ But (when I did go) I realise there were people older than me there!” Smith-Watts was motivated by an inherent belief in herself that she could improve her literacy skills, and set clear-cut goals to that end.
Before the end of her first lesson, while the teacher was showing how to divide students’ names into syllables, she had discovered “I could read—I just needed to know how!” Her objective upon enrolling at Alta was to attain her School Leaving Certificate with distinction, which she did, going on after this to excel in a home health care course and become a much sought-after care-giver.
Students are met with a nurturing, judgement-free atmosphere that is fostered by the volunteer tutor, who is often selected because of personality traits that lend themselves to maintaining a healthy learning environment. Their Alta training and experience prepare them to guide students to confront their feelings.
Sherrida Cato, another Alta graduate, came face to face with her issues on her first day, when her tutor asked, “What are you ashamed of? What are you afraid of? Who are you doing this for?” Sherrida realised, “I am doing this for me… it will be something with me for life.” It is just this kind of intervention that can mean the difference between persevering through first day jitters and withdrawing from the programme before achieving success.
So how do Alta students push past fear and anxiety and get on with the business of becoming better readers? In addition to her tutors putting her at ease, Susan Clarke says her “hunger for education” took over. A strong internal dialogue which enables the student to ask, and answer tough questions about themselves and their goals seems to be key. Our students constantly display the power of positive self-talk, and sheer will. Added to this, a welcoming environment replete with like-minded peers backed by teaching methods that reinforce the positive, also plays a big role in attainment. These factors, internal and external, combine to set the tone for adult learners seeking to capitalise on a second chance, like that provided by Alta.
“At first I was scared, but when I saw the amount of people that was there I got excited and brave,” said Thelma Bailey, Alta graduate. “Now I know if you want to improve yourself come to Alta. There are a lot of nice and willing teachers there who can help you.”
Free reading and writing classes for adults 16 and over. Register at public libraries, Warrenville Regional Complex, St Francis RC Church, Sangre Grande or Parvati Girls’ Hindu College, Debe on September 3 and 4 from 9 am to 6 pm. Starting the following week, Alta classes are two hours long, twice a week on evenings after working hours or during the morning.
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