Martin sits across the table from his tutor in a small cubicle at the Literacy Council.His ever-present baseball cap hides almost jet-black hair revealing, on the rare occasion it is removed, a hint of tamed curls.The visor shades a darkly tanned face with deep lines telling the stories of his life.He is here, at sixty-three, to learn what too many years in elementary school has escaped him—to read and write. Well into this lesson, he sits poised to write the sentence, “Go with him to the bridge.”Barely visible under the visor, his eyes are squinty closed concentrating on what he is supposed to make his pencil do.Pink rimmed white knuckles reveal the intensity with which he is attacking this task.His pencil point circles an imaginary point on the paper. “Come on, Old Man,” he chides himself. “Say the first word,” prompts his tutor. “Go.” He responds and writes ‘go’. “What do you know about the beginning of a sentence?” she questions him. “Oh, of course!”he blurts, obviously disgusted at his memory lapse.
He erases and writes‘Go’ followed by ‘wif”. “Martin.”He jerks his head upward.He knows there is a lesson coming.“Look at my mouth.”The tutor repeats ‘with’ emphasizing the tongue position needed to execute the ‘th’ sound at the end of the word. “Wif?”Martin asks quizzically. The tutor repeats the word with tongue position emphasized again. “With?”It’s as if he is tasting the ‘th’ for the first time. Martin writes ‘with’ followed by ‘him’ and then ‘to’.Next he is obviously zeroing in on ‘bridge.’ The tutordecides they will deal with the omitted ‘the’ later.For now Martin knows he has to tackle-though she has explained it several times-that illogical ‘dge’ at the end of some words.He knows one of those words is at the top of his uncooperative pencil.His long, work-worn fingers tipped with blunt, torn but scrupulously clean fingernails have the pencil going in circles over that invisible dot again. Again he chides himself.His tutor reminds him to say the word and to pay attention to the first feel that he notices in his mouth, and then the second.She is drawing on a technique she has learned from tutor classes designed to help people with Martin’s particular type of dyslexia. He recognizes the ‘lip popper’ ‘b’ and then the ‘back tongue lifter’ ‘r’ and writes them.Together they walk through the ‘dge’ spelling requirement after the short ‘i’.They go back after the offending ‘the’ and the sentence is finished. In the four months they have been student and tutor, Martin has gained over a whole grade level in reading comprehension.But Martin wants more, not the GED so prized by most of his fellow and much younger students, he wantsto be able to write his wife a note before he goes to work when she is still asleep. I am Martin’s tutor.I am humbled by this older student’s tenacity; his desire to learn; the pride he takes in his accomplishments; the reasons he wants to learn.I am proud to walk with him on this part of his journey and I have lessons to learn from Martin. Elsie Kornman, ETLC Tutor
Contact Information: East Texas Literacy Council P.O. Box 311 Longview, Texas 75606 Phone: 903-757-9302 Fax: 903-757-7438 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org