Last year my nephew asked me to read a story to him and I was ashamed because it turned out that he could read the story better than I could. It was just one of those little books kids pick up, 10 pages or so. I couldn’t read all the words. I played a game—you read to me then I’ll read to you, to hide that I couldn’t read it.
I went to school in Edmonton. I never thought I was behind in school and I always loved books, but when I was in grade 5 the words started to get harder. I just couldn’t keep them straight in my head. I was very self-conscious and too shy to tell anyone I was having trouble.
I had a friend who was a good reader but bad in math. I was good in math and a bad reader. We did each other’s work. It worked great until high school. I went right to grade 12, but I did all non-academics and muffled through the real classes. Towards the end my teachers started to figure it out and I just dropped out.
I used to think that, as long as I could work with my hands I would be okay. I worked as a gas attendant and a steel worker. I drove gravel truck and worked at the racetrack. All the jobs were physical and didn’t need me to read. I liked working on vehicles with my dad, so eventually I got into working in the parts department of a heavy equipment shop.
I really like this work and about a year ago I was offered a job as the parts manager in another shop. I was doing okay but it was becoming a real challenge to keep up. At work, I couldn’t read the computer or take messages. I had to memorize things. At the old job they sometimes made fun of the way I talked. I think that’s where I learnt how to slur. I really wanted to improve myself for this new job. I couldn’t read the manuals at home for the VCR and computer.
I’d have to ask for help or just wing it. I used to think they were all smarter than me. I don’t think that anymore.
My sister was volunteering at P.A.L.S. Project Adult Literacy Society in Edmonton as a tutor and she talked about the program there. She said that it was a great place that helped people to improve themselves. It was one on one tutoring, so it went at peoples own pace and not flying past them. If you made a mistake no one was embarrassed.
I told her that I couldn’t read very well. It was the first time I told any of my brothers or sisters. My speech was bad too. I only used small words and slurred when I talked because I wasn’t sure I was saying them right. I was too ashamed to call myself so I asked my sister to. She made the appointment. I was a nervous wreck. Once I started talking to Bonnie, the literacy coordinator, I was really comfortable. It was a friendly environment and I felt fine. The test she gave me wasn’t hard but I really had to focus to get through it.
My tutor is really patient and lets me make mistakes. She is very gentle even when she is correcting me. She has really helped me with my pronunciation. Nobody at work makes fun of the way I talk at all. I try to practice my reading all the time now. I read to my mom because she likes to hear the stories too. I like to turn the mute on the T.V. then I read the words. If they are talking too fast it can get away on me, but I do pretty good. I bought a Halloween book for my nephew and I didn’t miss one word. It was too hard for him so he told me he had to get his sunglasses to read it. I laughed because that used to be my excuse not to read to him.
I am reading a computer manual now for work. It’s hard but I can manage it. If I can keep improving, it will make me a better writer and more efficient at my job.
I can type now without having to check each word. I write better sentences and am improving my spelling. I can think in sentences now when I write. That is a real improvement. I started designing a parts book at work, with descriptions and pictures of each part. We carry about 3000 parts. I wouldn’t have even thought of trying to start a project like that before. Someday I would like to be good enough to help someone else learn to read. That would be really fantastic. Other people at P.A.L.S. have done it. Why not me? It’s a goal to look forward to.
I feel more confident now that I can read better. I am not afraid that people will know that I can’t read. I don’t have to hide it and take stuff home to get someone to help me. Someday I would like to be able to get my gr. 12 diploma. At first I just wanted to sit down someday and read a whole book and understand it. This month I finished my first adult novel and started on the second of a three book series. I wasn’t sure how long it would take but that was my goal and now, I’ve done it!!
If you have trouble reading, find a good literacy program. The people there won’t judge you and they are understanding. They work with you one on one. If you’re willing to try, you will improve. There’s no limit to the learning and what you can do with your life if you are willing to make the effort.