By: Cristina Norland
Edited by: Christina Bayley
For AmeriCorps members serving as teachers and tutors it can be tough to know if you are making a difference. The small successes seen in students are often followed by setbacks and struggles. Most of the tutors have had little experience teaching in the past and constantly question if their lessons are the most beneficial. I know this constant struggle because I’ve experienced it.
This is my second year of AmeriCorps and while this year I am serving as a Refugee Services Coordinator at Catholic Charities, last year I was a traveling tutor for the Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council (GPLC). I taught mostly pre-GED students as well as some ESL classes.
I was pleasantly surprised recently when my GPLC supervisor passed along an e-mail she had received from a former student of mine named John*. John was one of my students working to pass his GED. He came to GPLC because he had been out of school for about twenty years. Because John did not graduate high school he had been working in manual labor his whole life until, unfortunately, he tore his right rotator cuff and went through two unsuccessful surgeries. Through the advice of his physical therapist, John decided to give education another shot and attempt to pass his GED. After working with John for some months at GPLC he took his GED test and passed. I was very proud that day and John thanked me as we said our goodbyes.
I hadn’t heard from him since that day, until my supervisor passed along his e-mail. In the e-mail he said,
“You recommended the pre-GED classes, which were extremely crucial in my success of passing the GED test. With my new found confidence I investigated the Bidwell Training Center located in the Beaver Avenue section of the north side and after passing the pre-enrollment test I chose the Chemical Laboratory Technician program offered there. It has instilled in me confidence that I didn’t know existed and I am now halfway through the 1 year program to earn my Associates degree and currently holding down a 3.2 (90%) overall GPA. I cannot thank you, the tutors, and GPLC enough for giving me a new lease on returning to somewhat of a normal productive life and, once again, becoming a productive member of society. I am sure that my attitude towards education after being out of school so long was the same as some of the potential students you encounter might be and that is that I wasn’t sure I could do it. Nothing could be further from the truth. If an individual has a thirst for knowledge, the will to achieve greater things, and a lot of encouragement from a strong support group then anything is possible. At my GED graduation I was interviewed by a reporter and I told them that my goal was to be the first GED graduate to split an atom and dispel the general misnomer that GED graduates aren’t as smart as people who graduated high school the traditional way.”
Receiving that e-mail from John reminded me why I chose to serve with AmeriCorps. Just seeing how far he has come in his writing ability and all the things he is going on to accomplish in life melted my heart. We may not always get to see the immediate impact we have on our students, but we truly are making a difference in their lives.
*Name changed for privacy.