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Retired English teacher Irma Goodwin teaches adults to read

Difference Engines
by Nina Linton

Irma Goodwin (photo: Nina Linton)Not all stories have a happy ending, but for one Charlottetown area woman and her adult learning understudy their real life tale is almost too good to be true.

Brought together in October 2008, teacher Irma Goodwin and her mature student beat the odds in overcoming close to six decades of illiteracy, a life punctuated with fear, shame and shyness.

For the retired English teacher, this recent chapter in her life began three years ago as she routinely scanned through the local newspaper. As she flipped through the flopping pages her eye suddenly stopped on a small advert; volunteer literacy tutors needed. Picking up her telephone Goodwin called what is now known as the PEI Volunteers for Literacy and immediately registered for their tutor training seminar, hoping that her life long love of teaching could be put to use helping adults on the road to literacy.

Wrapping up the course, the fervent reader waited for close to a year and a half for a match to be made, finally getting the call that a keen learner had been selected for her.

Meeting twice a week in three-hour sessions, the duo have progressed from the very basics of the English language through to the fourth level of the adult learning texts, also tackling such tasks as internet and computer use, cursive writing, and map use.

“When she came to me she just couldn’t read but I pushed her and now she is fantastic. I can’t believe it,” beams Goodwin. “I always loved to teach and I am particularly interested in people who want to learn and she is very enthusiastic and of course that is great for me too.”

Often overlooked in a society where routine events like driving a car, buying groceries, and workplace demands hinge on word recognition and comprehension, people like Goodwin’s learner, who are affected by adult illiteracy, live their lives skirting this critical issue. It is estimated that 30 per cent of Islanders have limited literacy skills that prevent them from dealing with most printed material.

Since working with her mature match, Goodwin has noted a transformation in her learner’s character, saying what she has really enjoyed about tutoring her has been to watch her grow, literally.

“She has had such a change in her personality, and in her confidence. At first she wouldn’t speak. She was just really shy and now, wow,” gushes Goodwin.

“She has just learned to become that way herself. It is part of her personality and she is more sure of herself now.”

With the boost in confidence that literacy brings, Goodwin’s student now reads daily, a feat that the Islander once thought impossible. And the best part, says Goodwin, is that after picking up the printed pastime her learner enjoys reading.

“When you miss out on a book, you miss out on a lot,” says Goodwin. “People who can’t read are often as smart as can be, and probably a lot smarter than somebody who can read and doesn’t want to.”

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