Saturday, March 7, 2015

"End of an Era," Ch. 20 of BUT...AT WHAT COST

Because of my experience with ESL (English as a Second Language) and my contributions to developing new techniques, the powers in the agency had asked me to become a tutor trainer. I went through the extensive training and was gradually added to the ranks. I was moving up, and eventually, I and the other mucky-mucks gradually instituted what we hoped was a better program that concentrated more on techniques and resource material than on “why Juan needs help.” The original program (the one I had taken) had emphasized something all of us already knew – that Juan did, indeed, need help. That was why we were there.

It took years, and there is always room for improvement, but by 2010 we had it the way we wanted it. Enter the State of New York. They wanted us to install a comprehensive, state-wide tutor training program with guaranteed funding. In other words, do it our way, or else no money. I went to their seminars and evaluated their plans. Soon after, I handed in my resignation:

“To Whom It May Concern:

“It is with great regret I resign my position at Literacy Orange (LO). I have worked hard, helped many, learned a lot, and thoroughly enjoyed my nearly ten-year association with students, tutors and staff. I believe in our mission ‘to improve lives through literacy,’ but over the years I have watched that mission countermanded by the dictates of funding agencies and now Literacy New York (LNY). Put simply, I refuse to jump through hoops in order to comply with demands I find unnecessary, burdensome, expensive and intrusive.

“But this isn’t about me. I fear for the future of Literacy Orange. In my opinion, it is about to be regulated out of existence. Five of us represented LO at White Eagle for three days of training in LNY’s new tutor-training initiative. Not cheap. On our return we learned those seminars were just the beginning. A much bigger time and financial investment would be required to participate. (This came as a complete surprise to all the attendees and in my opinion was a deceitful withholding of information.) I have no doubt their demands will continue… every module they complete, every tweak they recommend may necessitate expenditures for further training. I suspect their new bureaucratic demands may require the hiring of more employees too. And to whose benefit?

“Requiring competent, experienced trainers to change their training programs to one that is in all likelihood inferior is crazy! Yes, there are parts of their program that could be incorporated into affiliates’ courses, but I have no confidence that LNY’s arbitrary choices are any better than ours. Having to hire employees to file irrelevant data (test scores and hours) is not cost effective. Suffice it to say, I think it’s not in anyone’s best interest for LO to allow itself to be held hostage by funding agencies and/or parent organizations. The more they require, the more it costs. The more it costs, the more funding we need. It’s an unsustainable circle that I fear will ultimately destroy LO. Bigger is NOT better.

“I think the community would be better served if LO used ‘KISS’ (keep it simple, stupid) as its guiding motto. Tutoring is not rocket science. I’m certain I could take any willing and able adult off the street, talk to him for an hour, hand him a copy of ‘Side by Side’ (the best instruction manual I’ve found) and send him on his way. The only things a literacy agency really needs to supply for the tutors of ESL are students and some resource materials.

“Our paid staff is caring, hard-working and very competent, but I think we’ve reached a point that most of the services they provide are neither cost-effective nor relevant to student or tutor performance. I believe we could spend less than half the money now spent and still maintain the same results… if overseeing bodies would butt out (if you’ll excuse the expression).

“I know… therein lies the rub. Non-profits in general and LO specifically are in the untenable position of existing at the mercy of self-appointed ‘experts’ and politicians whose missions may be different from our own. We simply want to help people and they want to get measurable, statistically meaningful results. Well, the dedication of tutors (and their impact on their students’ lives) isn’t measurable. Tutors are often mentors. Before students gain competency, tutors may help register children in school or talk to a doctor or read a lease. The list is endless. Most tutors do much, much more than teach reading and/or English. And I, for one, would hate to see that change. LNY’s stated goal is to make the affiliates ‘more professional.’ What does that mean? I fear it means they want us to be more like BOCES; they already compare our results to those of BOCES (which is another point to add to the ‘crazy’ list). In my opinion, ‘professionalizing’ would irreparably damage the heart and soul of Literacy Orange. We were not intended to be a professional organization nor do we need to be to achieve our mission.

“In closing, I must note that I have committed to the October training (if we use the old program). I will, of course, honor that commitment if you so choose, but not as an employee. I am a volunteer; that’s all I ever wanted to be.


Judy Axtell”

So, I am left with my fond memories, a wealth of cultural knowledge, invaluable insights, “priceless” friendships, and few regrets.

We are serializing Judy Axtell's memoir, What Cost. In this chapter, Judy is on her journey from liberal to conservative, and she finds bureaucracy too constricting. I am proud to have coached and edited for the book, which is published by Outskirts Press and is available in paperback through, other on-line book sellers, and Outskirts Press.

My writing-coaching-editing site is

No comments:

Post a Comment