I don't remember learning to read. I remember the books I loved, I remember checking out my first "chapter book" from the library (The Boxcar Children, naturally), and I remember hiding a book inside my jacket so I could read during recess without my teachers knowing.
All of this is to say that reading is both a past time and a skill that I have seemingly always had. Obviously that isn't actually true - I'm sure I owe a debt of gratitude to the combination of parents/teachers/grandparents who actually taught me - but I don't remember the specifics. I don't remember sounding out words or learning the difference between short and long vowel sounds. Reading has just always been, well, mine. And until recently, I didn't really think of it in any other way.
As someone who works from home and already has some natural hermit tendencies, I have to be proactive in finding reasons to leave the house and meet people. So, when I stumbled across the website for The Literacy Volunteers of Upshur County after Googling "volunteer opportunities in Buckhannon," I was intrigued. It seemed like a good way for me to get involved in our new small community.
I wasn't sure what to expect when I first dropped by to fill out a volunteer application - I just knew I missed teaching and felt like my mental health would benefit from giving back. What I found was a little house behind a church full of the type of kindness and optimism that has been sorely lacking in my everyday interactions. I was hugged by strangers and told over and over again, "We're so glad you're here." Within a week, they'd found me a student and wanted me to get started right away.
Since then, I've run the spectrum of emotions from feeling over my head and panicked, to feeling capable and effective. I've never taught an adult to read before. Until recently, I'd never even knowingly met an adult who couldn't read. But I am in this. It regularly feels like the most important thing I do with my week.
Some days there are visible improvements and I see lights coming on and it is the absolute best thing you could imagine. Other times, it's not as simple and progress isn't as clear. I feel frustrated when I can't explain something that I just inherently know and my student feels frustrated for thousands of other reasons I can't even begin to comprehend. Regardless of what type of day it is, we have agreed on one key thing: we're both going to keep showing up.
Typically, after our lessons, I'll come home and sit on my porch with whatever book I'm reading and I'll look at the pages and wonder about my own very privileged education. I think about how different my relationship to books could have been if I grew up in some other place, with some other family. I think about how many things I read per day and take completely for granted - a text message from my sisters, food labels, my Twitter feed, street signs. I think about the ways I can be a better tutor, how I can better explain certain concepts, and whether my student will ever know what it is like to sit in a rocking chair as the sun goes down and read a really good book.
I don't know. But I am optimistic.