Volunteer Tutoring – a chance to give back

Literacy Aotearoa

One of the pleasures of retirement is a having a little more spare time to enjoy, and with it, the opportunity to give back to your community. For retiree, Frances, whose career was in education (first as a teacher, and then as National Manager in the Education Review office), this meant volunteering with Literacy Aotearoa (LA).

LA is a nation-wide organisation dedicated to providing free education for learners, 18 years and over, who want to improve their literacy and numeracy skills. But here’s the thing – you don’t have to of been a teacher in order to volunteer with them. Frances explains:

“Literacy Aotearoa provides all the training volunteers require. Mine took place over a period of four weekends. There were about 15 of us on the course, and in many ways, it was a chance for everyone to decide if the volunteering really was for them.”

Rather than focusing on the content of what tutors would be teaching, LA’s training is about the culture of education in New Zealand, and how to teach adult learners. Tutors-in-training are required to complete short assignments which eventually lead up to two tertiary-level diploma qualifications. However, tutors don’t have to wait for even the first of these before they can begin teaching.

Meet-ups with learners take place in a mutually convenient spot such as a library, an adult learning centre (if one is available) or at the tutor’s home. Once Frances got to know her learners, she felt most comfortable teaching them at her home, and although it wasn’t required, she would often drive to collect the younger ones, and return them home again after their lesson.

“It was often an opportunity to ‘bond’ with my learners because, although it’s important not to be inquisitive about their lives outside the lesson, a general chat tends to touch on this sort of thing.”

The little bit of insight gained through bonding would inevitably come in handy if Frances needed to follow up on why a learner wasn’t attending lessons. It might also signal they were in need of a helping hand in general.

“You are usually working with people who haven’t succeeded in education in the past, and for whom life isn’t particularly easy. Once they share details with you, and you’re able to piece together their background, you can see where they need help to achieve their educational goals. Sometimes, this can be as simple as accompanying them to a JP to get documents sorted so they can begin the next phase of their study.”

Tutoring with LA has been a hugely rewarding experience for Frances, who has had the pleasure of watching some of her long-term learners enter tertiary training, and eventually qualify and go on to find employment. But the tutoring experience has also drawn her more deeply into her wider community.

“I’ve come to know, not only my learners, but also their families. And I also have a connection with other tutors because we meet monthly to discuss our progress and challenges, and more informally at social get togethers. Together, learners, their families and my LA colleagues, are now a part of my community whanau.”

Frances says she wouldn’t hesitate to recommend LA volunteering to others. In fact, she has actively encouraged friends and family to put up their hands for the job.

“I was well equipped to teach because of my background, but you don’t need to be teaching difficult things in order to be a tutor because you’ll receive all the support you need. Literacy Aotearoa is at the end of the phone whenever you need them, and they’re great at putting you in touch with people in your own community who can help, as well as suggesting on-line resources.”

If you’re thinking of volunteering with Literacy Aotearoa, be encouraged to contact the organisation. Take with you Frances’ helpful motto: “Always be supportive – never judgemental,” and you’re bound to succeed!