A few years after I started to write in a serious way, I decided to teach adult literacy. I thought that if I expected people to read my words, I should help those who were unable to read, to learn how to understand what I wrote. Thus, about ten years ago, I joined the South Muskoka Literacy Society and began to teach a woman five years younger than I was, to read and write. In actual fact, she could read words fairly well but she could not understand their meaning. When she read out loud, she took a run at the words, making wild guesses at their pronunciation; she did not stop for punctuation and so her reading efforts gave her no satisfaction. She was eager to improve and I was eager to help her.
I do not teach literacy to adults anymore but I am still in contact with my former student and she still likes to read and write. When I speak to her on the phone she takes great delight in telling me of the new words she has discovered in her daily reading; how many words she has in her current story about her cat and the number of poems she has written this year.
Recently, she has also begun to write a journal. She writes all three of her projects in notebooks. She then transcribes her poems and her cat story onto her computer. Her journal she writes only in a notebook. My former student has realised a very important truth; she is aware that, in order to increase her ability as a writer, she needs to keep honing her skills—she needs to keep writing, she needs to keep reading. The other truth she has grasped is that in order to grow in her writing skills she needs to be open to critique from other writers and readers.
I was born into a household where there were many books around. I was encouraged to read and write from a very early age; and I learned how to use a dictionary and encyclopaedia in order to enhance my writing. My former student had none of these advantages, and it is humbling to see the joy and eagerness with which she approaches her writing when, at times, I perceive my next writing assignment as a difficult task ready to overwhelm me.
The ability to read opens doors to all other opportunities. If we are able to read and write, we can do anything we want to do. The motto of the Laubach Literacy Society is Each One Teach One. If each one of us who is able to read teaches one other person that same skill, we will soon have a nation of readers and a lot more people to read the words that we have written. So, come on readers and writers, join the bandwagon; find a student who wants to learn to read and write; start to teach him or her that skill; then watch your readership increase!