Tutors Teaching Students; Students Teaching Tutors

By Cody Hervey, 2021-2022 Literacy First Tutor

My time serving as an early literacy tutor with Literacy First has been different compared to my first two years of national service. Serving as an AmeriCorps member with other programs was rewarding; however, it has been working with kids where I have come alive. There is something about looking a kid in the eye and seeing their confusion and lack of confidence transform into empowerment that changes a person. I’m not sure what I was expecting when I began teaching my students to read, but their impact on me has been immensely powerful. 

Reading opened so many doors in my own life, so I am intimately familiar with how important literacy is. I was raised in an economically disadvantaged home that experienced rapid upward mobility. My parents also had a messy divorce when I was young, leaving me and my sister reeling from the aftermath. Reading was often my only escape from how lonely I was at times growing up. I was exposed to new worlds, different ideas, and empowering role models. I’m sharing this to emphasize how important reading can be for people experiencing hardship.

Despite adversity, I have been privileged in so many ways. I came to Literacy First to continue giving back to the community and to share a love for reading. My experience has made me more aware of how deeply rooted inequity is within education. Sometimes it can be overwhelming to consider how the circumstances of my students’ birth can so greatly impact their access to opportunities. Furthermore, this knowledge grounds me in my day-to-day service with my students. I have learned that being my authentic self while tutoring can help to provide stability and support for those I work with. 

My students are some of the most tenacious young people I have met. They work hard to internalize the lessons I share each day. The thing is, they have no idea that they have taught me just as much. Living during this pandemic for the past two years has worn me down and shaken my faith in stability; however, working with children in this capacity has filled me with hope and joy. I come to my campus each day knowing that each interaction is an opportunity to help my students find confidence and to highlight their strengths. 

I want to finish this reflection with a story about one of my students. I met Jane at the beginning of my time as a tutor, and she has grown so much in her ability to read and her confidence since then. One of the first things that Jane’s teacher told me before working with her was that Jane firmly believed she could not read. Jane lacked confidence in her ability to learn to read, which was holding her back from her full potential. In fact, one of the major parts of my work with Jane has been to build her confidence and to reinforce a positive self-concept as a reader. I vividly remember how, one month into working with her, Jane brought a book from home to read together. She was shy, yet hopeful that her skills had improved. We read that book cover-to-cover over the course of the week, and Jane was so excited. Now, we have moved beyond working on phonics to fluency.

Jane is kind, sweet, and joyful. Working with students like her has helped me grow professionally and personally. I am more patient, kind, and caring because the experience. And, following my time as a Literacy First tutor, I look forward to becoming an elementary teacher and continuing to work with students in the future.

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