Yes, Grandma Flea set off for enrolment at TAFE today with all the essentials – knitting for the train (only 4 stops, but it is good to BE PREPARED – I wasn’t a Girl Guide for nothing!), pencil and pad. I’m part of the volunteer tutor program for language, literacy and numeracy. In reality, most of us in this area help people who are not native speakers of English with their English language skills. But – bad news – the program was cut back last year – the supervising staff had their joint hours reduced to 8 hours a week.. In this time they have to deal with enquiries, do home visits to assess applicants for language assistance, supervise the volunteers, run training programs for new volunteers and deal with all the paperwork required of them. It looks like they may be downsized out of existence! And what a loss to the community.
Volunteer tutors go into the homes of people who don’t want to go to a formal class at TAFE, or are not able to – mothers with young children, elderly people, or women whose cultural origins make it difficult for them to attend classes. We all do 24 hours training spread over 6 weeks, with assignments to be completed and a police check, before we are loosed on the world. Our supervisors take great care to match tutors with suitable students and are available to us should we have concerns or need assistance. They used to visit us in the student’s home, or other meeting place to see how things were progressing, but the reduced hours make that very difficult.
I’ve had three students in the three years that I’ve been a tutor. The first two students had problems of various sorts – illness in one case and the student withdrew from the program, isolation compounded by personal problems in the second case. After discussion with my supervisor, that second student was enrolled in an English language class at TAFE and has been going gangbusters. She needed to be with younger people not with a grey-headed old grandma.
By that time, despite reassurance by my supervisor, I was beginning to feel that I was a failure as a tutor, but the student I have had for the last two years is an amazing person. We will remain friends long after our formal involvement ends. I have seen her blossom, and as her English language skills have increased, her confidence has grown – she is working and has completed a certificate of attainment relevant to her work, and is now doing a second. She has an acute sense of justice and fairness, and now has the language and confidence to stand up for herself in the workplace. There is still a very, very long way to go before her English is anywhere near textbook perfect – but the aim of the program is to meet the needs of the student, not what the tutor thinks is necessary. I know that after she obtains the second certificate that she will probably rather go out for coffee than have a lesson – but socialising is a great opportunity to talk about words and language and she is always eager to learn.
Like most volunteer work, you get as much as you give, often more. If you’ve ever thought about volunteering for a program like this – and there are many- some in schools, some run by the Smith Family, the Red Cross and TAFE amongst others – go for it. You will be rewarded in ways that have nothing to do with the materialistic world that we inhabit.