Introducing Henry Jaeger, who is returning for a second year of service as a bilingual literacy tutor.
Why did you choose to serve with Literacy First?
When I moved back to the States after teaching in China for six years, I knew I wanted to do AmeriCorps, but I wasn’t sure what program to choose. While visiting a friend here in Austin, I saw that there were several early literacy programs in the Austin area, so I began my research. I learned that Literacy First had twenty years of history, it was research-based, and connected to UT–so I knew that it was going to be a well-rounded and developed program.
Seeing the years of history and hearing stories from the tutors, I knew Literacy First was doing something great. And when I began the interview process and was speaking with [Recruitment and Outreach Coordinator] Cristina Flores, her bubbly and friendly personality really made me feel that Literacy First would be a great program to work for!
How did teaching in China help you with literacy tutoring?
I studied abroad in China during college, and I was really attracted to the culture. Coming from a small town in Florida, I’ve always been interested in learning about unique and different things, and taking non-traditional paths. After college I decided to move to China to teach English and I loved it. I just loved teaching!
I was teaching ESL after school and on the weekends, and if you’re teaching ESL you have to be really engaging. My students had been in school all day before coming to me to learn English. Their brains were exhausted from a full day of learning, so I really had to have a fun and energetic teaching style. I carry that into my lessons with my Literacy First students now: reading is already an exhausting challenge for my struggling readers, and if I can’t have fun with my tutoring, then my students are not going to succeed in becoming proficient readers.
After I discovered my love of teaching in China, I started to wonder what I wanted to do with my life. Literacy First provided a way that I could use my skills and experiences from teaching in China and further explore my career goals. I was able to see if teaching was the right choice for me and to learn about other avenues I could take for my career. I feel that Literacy First has given a lot to me, while I have given a lot to Literacy First, and it’s a really great partnership.
Speaking of partnerships, you’ve completed several community partnerships as part of your AmeriCorps service. Which partnership was your favorite so far, and why?
I’m going to have to say my favorite volunteering partnership is with BreakthroughAustin. I chose to work with Breakthrough outside of my tutoring time because Breakthrough is a program that supports students in becoming first generation college students, like me. The staff is great in supporting and helping the students succeed. They are asking about the students’ grades, speaking with their teachers, helping with homework… they are really intent on helping their students break the cycle.
One of the things I really love about volunteering with Breakthrough is that I get to work with a graduate from the Breakthrough program who has come back to help more students become first generation college students. I also love that it’s a chance to work with a different age group from my K-2 students. Middle schoolers are a totally different ball game and it gives me a chance to learn how to work with older students. None of the tools I use with my six-year-olds will work with a group of middle schoolers! I can’t just use “the look” to wrangle a group of middle schoolers like I can with my K-2 kiddos. I have to identify with them, get on their level, and help motivate them to achieve.
You’re returning to be a campus leader this coming year! What are you most excited about?
I’m really excited about working with a new team. I’m also excited to be in a leadership role. With Literacy First you really get integrated into the school and build relationships with the teachers and other staff members. It’s great to build connections in the education field, and if I decide to go into education or education policy, then who knows where those connections could take me?
And as a side note on connections made through Literacy First: I’ve been trying to go to as many service projects as possible. You can meet so many people and really connect by volunteering at other campuses. There are so many opportunities to network with Literacy First. Your fellow volunteer now could be working at a huge nonprofit five years down the line.
Tell me about one of your favorite moments with a student.
I have a student who graduated toward the end of the school year. He’s always been very enthusiastic about learning (he even told me, “I wish we went to school on Saturdays too!”). His mom is a teacher at the school, and I think that helps him a lot. He struggled with his reading fluency and he just needed a little extra push to get to grade level in reading. When he did graduate, he told me that he went home and showed his family his certificate, and that they were so proud of him that they were going to take him to his favorite restaurant to celebrate. They also gave him some new Legos™ and then the family built a Lego ™ “Mr. Henry” together! I thought that was such an amazing thing: that his parents cared so much about his achievement, and that I was able to be a part of the support system that he has.