Make no mistake about it. From the moment you walk through the door on Belmont Circular Road you know that ALTA (Adult Literacy Tutors Association) is serious business.
There I was thinking I could just waltz in and start teaching adult literacy classes. After all, I had taught at secondary school for many years and I was sure they needed volunteers.
Well no siree! Not at ALTA!
Sally in the front office, pleasant and efficient but very firm, lets you know in no uncertain terms that this was not a commitment to be taken lightly. If you cannot commit the time to teach, then there was no point in doing the training.
First, I had to fill out a form and a one-page introduction to the sounds and patterns in words. Well this put things in perspective as I realised how little I knew about teaching literacy.
Next, was the interview to ascertain whether I was a worthy candidate. I was then informed that I had to observe at least eight classes before I could be trained.
At first, I was somewhat taken aback but, truth be told, I was quite impressed by the rigour to which prospective tutors were subjected. This was no "viekevie" organisation, it was clear that this undertaking was an important responsibility.
The observation classes turned out to be a real eye-opener. What impressed me most was the atmosphere in the class room. The relationship between the tutors and the students was one of mutual trust, and openness.
The students had tremendous respect for the tutors who were so well-prepared and eager to facilitate learning. They were in tune with each other and sensitive to the students.
They were always positive and believed in the students, affirming them. The dynamics of this caused everyone to reach for the best within themselves.
The other thing that really hit me, was the bond between the tutors and students and the bond among the students themselves. They often worked in pairs and helped each other with assignments sounding out words and encouraging each other.
Of course there were times when, in true Trini style, someone would crack a good joke and everyone would burst into spontaneous laughter.
I was also amazed by how much I was learning.
The students were able to apply rules which were unfamiliar to me. Using their cards and the rules, they were able to pronounce words and spell words which they recognised for the first time.
This opened up a whole new world to them as it did to me; a light had begun to shine in the darkness.
The lessons stimulated thought and often caused the students to pause and reflect on their lives. It was so touching listening to them sharing their life stories. It helped me to get a better insight of the students. I began to see why everyone at ALTA was so well bonded.
I also realised why one had to be completely committed. This was no ordinary venture. In this ALTA classroom people were being empowered, lives were being transformed–both students and teachers were becoming enlightened.
So many barriers which divide our society were broken down–race, gender, social status all became unimportant.
We connected with one another on a deeper level each recognising the quest to become a better person. We needed each other–I needed them just as much or, perhaps, even more than they needed me.
So I signed my contract assuring Sally that I would be there for all the training sessions and would commit to tutoring for one school year.
What I didn't tell her is that I considered it a privilege to be a part of this social movement which is a positive light shining on our nation.
I am so eager to start for I know that empowering others with the gift of reading must bring purpose and meaning to life like nothing else can.
Play your part to build literacy. If you have time, volunteer to be an ALTA tutor, a Reading Circle guide or to assist students on the computer. If your time is already booked, sponsor an ALTA student for the year (TT$500).
Call 624-ALTA (2582) ore-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.