I find that Canadians are addicted to summer. The more winters I live through, the more I can’t wait for summer. I love this time of year when the sun is shining and it is warm, the gardens are blooming and everyone seems happier. So it’s no wonder, that as I sit in my office this Friday morning (the Friday before the long weekend in May) it is very, and I mean hauntingly, quiet. People are gearing up for the first official long weekend of summer. (We Canadians try to borrow from spring to make our summer longer!!!)
I actually started my journey working in adult literacy 24 years ago, around the long weekend in May. I was so excited to start this new job and learn as much as I could about literacy. I remember walking into the office in downtown Elliot Lake, all ready to teach everyone I came into contact with to read. The first thing I learned that May was that many adult learners liked to take time off in the summer to enjoy the season. So I had to put my aspirations to “change the world”, on hold. That summer gave me time to learn more about adult learners…and believe me, there was A LOT to learn. 24 years later, I am still learning.
The first thing I had to learn was the meaning of the word literacy. I remember an overwhelming feeling of panic that first day when it hit me that I wasn’t sure if I even knew what the word literacy meant. I remember diving into a dictionary (yes an actual book) looking for the definition of literacy. How could I work with adults with literacy problems if I didn’t know what their problem was? I soon learned that there is a wide range of needs for an adult who needs “literacy help”. Many adults who want to improve their literacy skills are able to read and write. But where they need help is with using their reading and writing skills to function confidently in society. They want to be able to communicate with their children’s teachers and not feel inadequate. They want to be able to read the literature given to them by the doctor so they can understand the new condition that they may have been diagnosed with. They want to help their children with math homework.
The biggest misconception about adults who look for literacy help is that they are lazy. If one more person says that to me I might have to pull a “Tie Domi” on them. Literacy issues stem from a plethora of reasons. Just when I think that I have heard every story possible about why an adult struggles with reading, writing and math, a new learner comes in and tells me something I have never heard before. I don’t want to re-tell all the stories so what I will say instead is never assume that you know the “simple” reason some struggles with literacy. There is not a simple reason why someone struggles with reading, writing and math. If you are privileged to meet someone who will share his/her struggle with literacy, listen to the story and then tell about us and how we may be able to help…if they are willing.
So I started this blog post by talking about the first weekend of summer. You may have been asking yourself, “what does this post have to do with a long weekend?” Nothing really except that I used a really good “hook” to get you reading about literacy. Well, maybe there is a small connection. Summer is a time to relax and have fun. Many adult literacy learners need the summer to relax and it gives program coordinators time to reflect on what we offer and how we can do a better job. Right now our offices are quieter except for the sound of flip flops in the hallway.
Have a wonderful and SAFE first official weekend of summer.