by Catharine Preston
English Skills Learning Center
Guest Blogger

In November, I signed an 8-month contract, in which research was to be conducted about the best way to educate emergent readers. The research was fascinating, yet also difficult. Some things worked, some things didn’t. Our goal was to find out the things that worked, implement them, and make those techniques an accessible reality to our volunteers.

I began teaching at the Villa Franche Community and Welcome Center (a United Way of Salt Lake Community Learning Center) at the end of November. Most of the students scored very low on the ERLE test (a test we use specifically to measure the levels of those who are still learning the Roman alphabet, or emergent readers). One student was even a level 0. At these kind of levels, it’s not unusual for a student to take years to learn to read. Over the course of about 6 months, the students learned 10 letters, as well as slides, and three-letter words. It was a marvelous experience for them and for myself. They were dedicated beyond belief, and I admired their determination to learn.

On June 14, I taught my final class at Villa Franche. The research had ended, and the class was being handed over to a volunteer. Their post-test levels showed incredible progress. The student who was previously at a level 0, was now an astounding level 5! All of the other students made significant level gains as well.

As I was wrapping up the final class, and preparing to say good-bye, I told the students, “I am finished as your teacher now. Your new teacher is Cassidy. She will teach you on Tuesday. I am finished.” One student then looked me right in the eye, pointed to me, and said, “Teacher, you are not finished. You are…” the student then proceeded to point directly to his heart.

Perhaps you’ve seen the bumper sticker, “If you can read this, thank a teacher”. It’s easy to get caught up in level gains. It’s easy to get caught up in their progress, their spelling, or their pronunciation. These things are important. However, sometimes, do we forget to see the big picture? Do we forget to see that we are teachers? Truly, teachers? What we teach the students is their foundation for their new life here. The classes may finish. You may decide volunteering isn’t fitting in with your new schedule. Whatever the case, you will never stop being a teacher to someone. You are impacting their lives far beyond what you may comprehend, and will continue to do so.

You are never finished.

***United Way of Salt Lake works in partnership with the English Skills Learning Center to service West Valley, Kearns, South Salt Lake, and different Welcome Centers.  The ESLC provides training to volunteers and supervises them as they teach free English classes for the growing adult newcomer population.***