Adult literacy workers

I have a friend and colleague who, after many years of helping adults with basic reading and writing, is now helping adults prepare for the GED test. So far this year, four of her learners have been successful.

I'm especially pleased about this because here in New Brunswick there is an official and oft-repeated belief that literacy workers ought to be adult educators with university degrees, that adult educators with university degrees are worth more than Joe Smuck literacy workers (though that's really only a couple of bucks an hour), and that literacy workers without degrees are best assigned basic level learners so that our credentialed adult educators can be free for the serious (and federally funded) work of GED prep and training in Workplace Essential Skills.

My friend, you see, is effective, clever and professional; but not credentialed.

Joe Smuck.

Just like me.

We were talking about this the other day, and she noted something I'd already found out: compared to basic adult literacy work, hosting a GED prep class is ridiculously easy. "There are all kinds of great resources and workbooks and things online," she said, "and my learners can all read the instructions." She talked about their relatively high exposure to background knowledge, and their comfort level with the written expression of abstract concepts.

Yeah, I agreed. Mostly you talk some science and history, do a little math, model essay writing, and act as a conspicuous learner.

I mean, it's not easy easy. There are challenges. But when we compare GED-level learners with adults literacy learners in terms like the barriers created by poverty, poor health, justice issues, family turmoil, and uncertain housing, there's really no contest.

Core literacy work, basic adult literacy support, is hard, hard, hard. I know because, having regained a core literacy class after more than a year, I find my facilitating skills have gotten woefully dulled and flabby.

"They've got it backward," said another friend, long experienced in New Brunswick's special mishandling of literacy. "You want your best trained, most experienced and skilled people working with your lowest level adult learners. And they need to be the best paid."

Adult learners with the greatest need require "more than a volunteer," she said, despairing of our habit of turning very low level readers over to financially stressed volunteer groups. "They need somebody's who is trained and experienced and has the heart for it - that's where you want to put your investment."

Unfortunately, it's hard to get HRDCanada to pay for an education program that isn't immediately tied to certification and an employment plan - and the Province of New Brunswick is very sensitive to what Ottawa will or won't finance. Too, the University of New Brunswick has an influence well out of line with their meager grasp of either basic adult education or literacy. And, finally, too many of our best civil servants have gotten trapped in a paradigm (not of their own making) that says adults learning to read are really just big kids who need a second chance to work through the Department of Education's curriculum for grades K through 9 as delivered by a properly trained school teacher.

Failing that, we'll hand them over to Joe Smuck - paid or maybe not - and hope for the best.

Which, sometimes, is exactly what our learners get.

Good job, you. :)


Ginny said...

Thanks Wendell - great article - if only people would look at personality, heart and experience for all levels of teaching - then all learners would get the best!!!

via Facebook

Janet said...

I couldn't agree more Wendell. You've nailed it!

via Facebook