Kara Korab, Maryland PreK Tutor at Eutaw Marshburn Elementary School in Baltimore City.
1. What motivated you to serve as a Literacy Lab tutor?
When I first heard about The Literacy Lab, I had just gotten back from a year abroad teaching English. I knew I wanted to be involved in education, but I wasn’t sure in what capacity. What initially attracted me to the program was the idea of service and giving back, and after researching more I was impressed by the organization and structure of the program. I had just completed a teaching program that was incredibly disorganized, and it was refreshing to see a program that really seemed to have a meaningful impact. I was attracted by the meaningful scripts, the huge support group filled with coaches and staff and other volunteers, and the data that proved this was a system that worked.
2. What did you expect going in to your Pre-K tutor role in Baltimore? Has your experience met those expectations? How has it differed from what you initially assumed your role would be like?
Coming into this program I really wasn’t sure what to expect. My only other teaching experience was teaching English to French high school students, and I came into the program thinking their level of English might be similar. Of course, I was completely wrong. The biggest thing I’ve taken from this experience so far is that it’s not just about teaching literacy and math skills; for most of these kids it’s their first time in school and first experience having any kind of structured routine. They are learning how to deal with new schedules, navigating a wide range of emotions they don’t have the words to express yet, as well as building friendships and relationships with the other students and teachers. You learn quickly that this job is so much more than benchmark assessments and tracking data points.
3. What is one experience you have had as a tutor that particularly stands out to you?
Around a month and a half into my service, when I was really starting to feel confident and comfortable in my tutor role, we had a new student enter the class. This was his first time in school, and he struggled to fit in and learn the structure of the classroom. Not surprisingly, he scored in the lowest literacy bracket of my initial literacy assessments. After a month of hard literacy intervention work, he was able to breeze through the initial picture naming assessment, and I moved him onto visual discrimination and letter naming interventions. I already knew that his knowledge of letters was limited and even with practice nothing was really sticking. Then one day in our aftercare program, I picked out an alphabet puzzle for him to play with. I sat down next to him, expecting I would need to guide him through the puzzle, but he instantly began placing the pictures with the correct letter. All I would have to say is “A” and he would immediately pick up the ‘apple’ picture and place it with the “Aa” piece. I was amazed. In class, he could barely remember our letter of the week, but when placed with a picture he got it! His grandmother was there to pick him up, and started bawling when she saw how well he was doing it and how excited he was. It was my ‘Ah ha! Moment’ and I knew exactly what to do; the next day I began paring the letters we were working on with a picture that began with that letter. Through working with him one-on-one and engaging in direct and meaningful conversation, I finally got through to what strategies would help him develop as a reader. Every day he makes progress, and that is the most rewarding thing for me.
4. How has your role as a Literacy Lab tutor reinforced previous goals that you had, or helped your discover a new passion/direction for the future?
I knew I loved education and teaching, but I didn’t have an experience teaching elementary students. Now I’m really passionate about education and education policy and early literacy and plan on taking that with me as I start a Masters in International Education in the fall.
5. What piece of advice would you give to new tutors?
Don’t stress about the amount of work you have for the program; you will figure it out! It is SO exciting to work with the kids and see the progress you’ve made with them. Besides the literacy work you do with them and the progress you see your students make, one of the best things for me has been building relationships with my students. The work that you are doing is so rewarding and at the end of the day, no matter how exhausted you might be you know what you are doing really matters.