Mission Driven Retirement

A large portion of The Literacy Lab tutors join the Reading Corps shortly after college graduation; however, Clarence Elliot, 2015-16 Maryland Reading Corps Pre-K tutor, joined the Reading Corps shortly after retirement. After a long career in public service, Clarence chose to dedicate the skills he learned as a professional and a parent to a year of interventions with Pre-K students struggling with early literacy skills.

While many would choose retirement as a time for hobbies and more relaxing ventures, Clarence devoted his retirement to serving others. As Clarence said, “Someone once described me as ‘mission driven,’ and I think that observation is fairly accurate. As a result, I like challenges and trying to be part of change.” Read on to learn more about how retirement led Clarence to The Literacy Lab, and why a year of service allows him to continue to be challenged and learn on a daily basis.

1. You joined the Maryland Reading Corps after retiring from your previous career. What motivated you to apply to The Literacy Lab and ultimately accept your position as a Pre-K literacy tutor in Baltimore?

Although I was in early retirement, I wanted to continue to serve in a meaningful way. I’ve always enjoyed challenges, and delving into education for struggling children was an attractive opportunity. I anticipated that I could enhance a student’s literacy experience. I accepted the position because I thought the program was well thought-out, and due to the staff that I encountered. I had interviewed with another agency in Baltimore but decided not to pursue work with them any further once I received an offer from The Literacy Lab.

2. Your position as a literacy tutor is a full-time position. What do you think are some of the benefits of “postponing” full-retirement with a yearlong service opportunity?

For me, the main benefit is remaining vibrant by providing assistance to “my” students. The key is remaining active. I can always play tennis or try to play golf. Yet, learning a new discipline and applying it beats retirement. Another benefit is supporting the staff that exist at my school; hopefully, I provide another layer of support and strength to these extremely hardworking educators.

3. In what ways did your previous career prepare you for your position as a literacy intervention tutor? What adjustments have you made in your new position?

After a career in public service,  the commitment was obviously there. The values, flexibility and ability to work with diverse individuals are all helpful. However, I had no experience in the classroom other than being an advocate for my own two children who are now adults. As a father who championed learning for my own children, I’m able to transfer my love of reading and learning to my students. However, learning the lingo, practices and processes in addition to Reading Corps methods is still an adjustment. Also, learning how to lesson-plan and focus on technical aspects remains a challenge; I try to help as much as I can, and am optimistic that my adjustment period will soon result in success. The fun and relatively easy part is dealing with the Pre-K students. Watching their minds unfold and their beautiful spirits is really heartwarming.

4. What skills or insight have you gained so far as a literacy tutor? Do you feel like you will continue to use, in some way, what you have learned during your year of service?

I do feel like I am growing via my service as a literacy tutor. As a “big-picture” person, I am gaining technical skills as a teacher. I’ve learned how to assess students, provide interventions and tutor/teach them within an evidence-based framework. There is no doubt that I will find ways in the future to continue this type of service. I am particularly interested in international work or further serving urban students domestically.

5. What is a moment that you have had so far that shows the positive impact you are making with your students?

We have students who have faced family trauma, language barriers and poverty. On a regular basis, a smile or gesture shows that, as a caring adult, you are making a difference in the students’ lives. On an academic note, one young boy who has a difficult family life wrote his name in Playdough today. Although he sits separately from other kids, and carries emotional pain, he made his name through constant support and affirmation of his value and ability.

6. Do you have plans after your year of service?

As mentioned above, I am seriously thinking about a stint abroad. I also am thinking about doing an online academic project with McGill and Kennedy School of Government. My focus would be on reflection of urban violence and strategies to combat it. I’ll also do some community outreach for the next decennial census.

Learn more about The Literacy Lab and ways to get involved, at any stage in your career, at www.theliteracylab.org