Teaching reading brings fulfillment

September 05, 2000

Teaching reading brings fulfillment


photo: RICHARD T. MEAGHER / staff photographer

Bill JohnsonHALFWAY - Next Friday is International Literacy Day, but it's a world of reading every Wednesday for Bill Johnson.

The Halfway resident serves as a volunteer reading tutor with the Literacy Council of Washington County, which is a branch of the Frederick County Literacy Council.

He has spent nearly two years leading another adult from a second-grade reading level to a point where he can read with complete comprehension. Teaching his student to read has been "very rewarding," said Johnson, 68.

"It's become a very strong focal point of my life at this time," he said. "Even though it's a volunteer situation, I take it very seriously."


The part-time U.S. Census Bureau employee, who has worked in the fields of accounting, finance and health care, has always been proficient in math. Johnson enjoys reading, but his aptitude for literacy tutoring has surprised him, he said.

Johnson's conscientious and dependable nature make him an ideal tutor, said Barbara Creager, coordinator of the Literacy Council of Washington County.

Every Wednesday at 6:30 a.m., Johnson meets with his student for two hours. The duo work through a highly structured adult reading program, backtracking when necessary, Johnson said.

The native New Yorker, who also spent about 20 years living in New England, said his distinctive accent doesn't hinder his ability to teach phonetics to his native Washington County student.

Johnson just warns his pupil not to repeat his "or" sounds- like in "New Yawk," he laughed.

The tutor's endless patience and his pupil's desire to learn have produced results that have pleased both teacher and student, he said.

"I think it's an eye-opener for him because I don't think he knew what he was missing," Johnson said.

His own love of reading and his empathy for adults who couldn't navigate the written language prompted Johnson in July 1998 to sign up for the literacy council's 12-hour tutor training course.

"I've never been a teacher, per se, but you start off with the premise that (the students) know nothing," he said. "I really like the program."

Johnson said he finds the literacy program easy for both the tutor and the student.

Deviating from his natural print-cursive writing style to form alphabetical letters that his student could then model proved to be the tutor's greatest challenge, he said.

"But now I can write naturally- and he can read my writing," Johnson said.

The Laubach Way to Reading is designed to gradually guide functionally illiterate adults through four reading levels, ending at the equivalent of about a fifth-grade reading level, Creager said.

The program takes about three years to complete, she said.

Anyone interested in volunteering with the Literacy Council of Washington County can call 301-739-4208.

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