The Beginning of a Lifelong Pursuit

K-3 DC Literacy Lab tutor, Holly Johnston, smiles with one of her students at The Walker-Jones Education Campus in Washington, DC. Holly served as a tutor for two years, and will follow her Literacy Lab service years as a Teach for America Corps Member in Prince Georges County, Maryland.

1. What was your background prior to working with The Literacy Lab?

Before joining The Literacy Lab in 2014, I had just graduated from Mary Baldwin College with a degree in Political Science and Religion. Mary Baldwin prides itself on crafting young women to become confident, compassionate, change makers – so it was important to me that the work I was going to be doing was making a positive impact.
After applying to Teach for America and ultimately not getting asked back in the final round, TFA passed my contact information to partner organizations. One day, an email from The Literacy Lab popped into my inbox. As I read the description, I knew that it was something that I wanted to do.  I grew up in a very similar socioeconomic background as a lot of my students, so I know the impact the lack of resources can have on a child’s education. I wanted to play an active role in helping students realize their potential, and realize that their zip code should not determine the quality of education that they receive.

2. How did your personal goals change or broaden after serving with The Literacy Lab? 

There are so many things that have changed after serving with The Literacy Lab.  I viewed it as a stepping stone to my next adventure, but little did I know that it was the beginning of a lifelong pursuit towards educational equity inside the classroom, not outside.   I’ve always been someone that has appreciated and respected the political process. I started my second year of tutoring seeking my Master of Public Policy, but I realized that it is not the way to seek the change that I want to see.  Is it important? Absolutely.  But my students need change makers in the classroom, which is why I applied to TFA.

3. What motivated you to do a second year as a tutor?

My students.  Urban schools are such transient places and people come and go.  I wanted my students to know that there are people invested in their education.  Since August 2014, I’ve served at the same site, including summer school, so my students are well aware that I believe in them and their growth.  At the end of the day, my students know that while the people in The Literacy Lab shirt might change every few years, that we are a group of people deeply invested in them.

4. What skills did you acquire as a tutor that will benefit you in your teaching role with Teach for America?

There are so many skills that I have acquired as a tutor that is going to help me with TFA, there are a few skills that I am especially thankful for having been nurtured while a tutor.  The first is the ability to take constructive feedback and instruction from coaches. Over my two years, I saw that we have the same goal in mind – providing our students with the best instruction that they deserve. With this in mind, I never feared an observation, because I knew that any constructive feedback was given to make me a better tutor.  This is definitely a mindset that I will carry with my into teaching.  Another skill that will be beneficial is having some tools for classroom/behavior management.  From progress charts to stickers, I’ll have some tricks up my sleeve to help with what is probably one of the hardest aspects of your first year teaching.

5. What advice do you have for prospective applicants and new tutors that are interested in getting into the education field?

Don’t be afraid.  Whether your background is in education or not, don’t be afraid to step out and take the leap to apply.   Like I tell my students, “I’m not going to let you fail, and if you mess up, that’s okay, because we’re in this together.”  The Literacy Lab is going to equip you with everything that you need to be successful in your year of service, and if there is something missing – ask!  Your coaches and program staff are an email or phone call away.  If they don’t know the answer, they will certainly know who to put you in contact with.