How Service and a Special Student Helped Me Find My Career Path

By Darby Duncan, 2022-2023 English Literacy First Tutor 

Many Literacy First tutors apply for the position order to explore professional development and career opportunities. Before applying to serve as a tutor with Literacy First, Darby had originally planned to spend time in Morocco with the Peace Corps. After realizing she wanted to serve her home community instead, she decided to serve through AmeriCorps and found Literacy First. As the school year comes to a close, Darby shares the story of a special student, Maiah, and reflects on how working with Maiah helped her realize her future career plans.  

When I began tutoring this past November, I didn’t realize how inspiring and important the students I’m working with would become to me. I want to share the story of one in particular who I have seen progress immensely: Maiah. When I first met Maiah, she was a very shy girl who would respond to questions about herself with a shrug. She started the program reading only 4 words a minute, well below the second-grade-level benchmark of 45 words per minute. I got my first break into learning more about her when I heard she had asked for a Barbie for Christmas. I clung to this small nugget of information and found her a book about Barbies to take home over winter break. When I gave her the book, she lit up and asked to start reading it right away. 

In the new year, Maiah opened up more and more. She is an incredibly bright and playful child who loves turtles, scary movies, and graphic novels. Upon passing the mid-year benchmark, I was elated to see she was averaging 38 words a minute in her weekly assessments, which was incredible progress. Then, just when I thought she couldn’t surprise me more, we started a new intervention, which shifted our lesson focus from phonics to reading informational text with fluency and comprehension. Within a month she shot up to reading 78 words a minute. Maiah did not graduate before the end of the school year, but she was on track to graduate within a few weeks. I am so happy to see her reading so well and having so much fun in the process. I am going to miss working with her.  

Working with Maiah showed me how much I truly enjoy working with children. I want to ensure they receive the resources they need to be successful and best equipped for life. I believe that children have a right to a good education and that being literate is necessary to access a myriad of social services. By having the chance to work with Maiah, I was exposed to the reality that many of the children in the schools Literacy First serves are English language learners. Some of these students will be tasked with assisting their families in reading documents and helping them navigate social services because of language barriers. Therefore, they must be well equipped to help not only themselves through personal growth, but also must help their families. Maiah showed me how passionate I am about working with immigrant and refugee families, in particular, to help ease the overwhelming transitions they face. In return, I hope through reading, I gave her the key to not only her own future but also the opportunity to help her family and community. 

I cannot think of a single more rewarding experience in my life than having the opportunity to teach a child to read. Reading opens students up to a whole realm of opportunities and experiences. When I first applied to become a tutor, I was excited by the possibility that I could spend a school year working with students, helping develop their literacy skills. I quickly discovered how much I enjoyed working with the children in my community and realized that I want a career where I can work with them every day. 

Throughout this year, I began exploring the idea of becoming a school or child and family social worker and found that this would be a very good match for me. I was recently accepted into the University of Texas at Arlington’s Master of Social Work Program. I will begin this summer and am ecstatic about this new journey. I am currently applying for case management positions in the community and have found that my time with Literacy First has opened up a multitude of opportunities for me. I would recommend tutoring with Literacy First to anyone deciding on what career path to take next, especially if they had an interest in social services and children. I am so grateful to Literacy First for helping me identify what career path to pursue.