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Volunteer Frequently Asked Questions

FAQs – Tutoring

What are the requirements to be a Literacy Advance volunteer tutor?
The desire to help others in our community is a great place to start! Volunteer tutors should also possess patience, flexibility and respect.

You don't need need prior teaching experience to be a tutor, as we will provide training and ongoing support. Foreign language skills are also not required since we strongly encourage tutors to conduct all classes in English, as this is the fastest way for students to learn.

A full list of Tutor Eligibility Requirements can be found here.

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What programs do you have? What role does the tutor play?
Adult Basic Education (ABE) volunteer tutors work with English-speaking adults who want to improve their literacy skills. ABE classes focus on reading and writing and tutors generally work one-on-one with their student.

English as a Second Language (ESL) volunteer tutors help adults who want to learn English to speak, listen, read and write in English. Tutors in the ESL program lead small groups (approximately 6 - 10) of students, and generally focus on conversation skills, although not exclusively. Students in ESL classes are grouped according to their ability, not their background language.

We also offer Supplemental Classes outside the regularly scheduled ABE and ESL classes, which focus on a specific area such as computer skills, conversation practice or job readiness. In addition, we offer a Waiting Class for ESL students on the waiting list and a Reading Practice Group for ABE students who want more practice in a group setting.

All Literacy Advance programs are student centered. Tutors are encouraged to plan their lessons around the goals and interests of their class, and to use a variety of resources to help students meet life goals and learn real-world skills, in addition to gaining confidence with language. There are substantial collections of such resources at both the Wilcrest (west Houston) and Bay Area campuses, which can be borrowed for a short time or used in lesson preparation, and guidance on planning learner-centered lessons is a core part of the Tutor Training Workshops. We also encourage you to use the resources page for additional ideas and support.

Textbooks are provided as a core or framework curriculum, which tutors should supplement with real-world and other materials as outlined above. In addition to the guidance given at the Tutor Training, extra help is always available from the Literacy Advance staff and fellow tutors.

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Can I tutor at a location that is convenient to me?
Tutoring takes place at a number of locations across Houston, however, some sites are limited to just one program (ABE or ESL), or may be running a special program with specific needs or restrictions. For details, please check our map of all current tutoring locations.

Many of our partner sites require additional, site-specific training. You can click on the location markers on the map linked above to see the current status of each location, along with its address and contact details.

Our map is updated when new partner sites are added and new programs begin, so please check back regularly!

It is a Literacy Advance policy that no tutoring takes place either in the student or tutor's home, or any other unauthorized location.

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What will my time commitment be as a volunteer tutor?
We ask our tutors of regular ABE and ESL classes to commit to their class for a total of 48 hours of instruction. Learners and tutors can meet either twice a week for two hours each time (for a total of four hours each week, and 12 weeks in total), or once a week for a three-hour class (for 16 weeks in total). Either schedule results in 48 hours of class time.

However, we also have more flexible options for those with limited time or unpredictable schedules including co-tutoring or leading a Supplemental Class (most of these classes take place at either our Wilcrest or Bay Area campus). Please speak to the Literacy Advance Programs Team if time is an issue for you.

Tutors are also expected to spend some time each week planning their lessons. The amount of time spent depends on the level and nature of the group, and the tutor's experience level.

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When do classes start? How can I find out if tutoring will suit my schedule?
Literacy Advance does its best to suit tutors' schedules. We currently have no set semesters or start dates for classes at our main location, but instead form classes as tutors and classroom space become available. Our Bay Area campus and Outreach classes run more on a semester basis. Once a new tutor has completed the Tutor Training, Literacy Advance staff will consult with him or her about the most convenient start date.

We ask that tutors minimize disruptions to their class schedule as much as possible, but understand sometimes missing a class is unavoidable. However, the more consistently a class meets, the more likely it is for students to learn and make progress. When you're working out your class schedule with our staff, please look ahead in your calendar to make sure that you're able to come to every class!

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What type of ongoing support can I expect as a volunteer tutor?
The Literacy Advance e-News is sent out around the first of each month and contains news, updates, and ideas for all tutors. Information is also included about our ongoing schedule of Tutor Enrichment Workshops, which help tutors continue to learn new ways to guide, challenge and assist their learners.

After your class begins, you will have numerous opportunities to speak to experienced tutors who can answer questions, offer advice and review lesson plans with you. Additionally, many of our more experienced tutors are happy to act as mentors for newer tutors. Please talk to someone on the Programs Team if you are interested in having a mentor.

And of course, Literacy Advance Programs Team members are always available to answer questions and provide assistance.

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Who are the students?
All Literacy Advance students are 18 and older. ABE learners have sufficient spoken English (generally English is their first language), and may have completed part or all of high school, but cannot read and/or write well enough to fulfill their potential. ESL learners come from many nations and speak many languages. Many of them are new to the United States and want to improve their understanding of the English language in order to become more involved in their community, feel more confident in everyday situations, and improve their abilities in the workplace, their children's education and more.

Students are referred to us through friends and family, help lines, TV and radio announcements, partner agencies and workplaces. When a prospective student contacts Literacy Advance wishing to join a class, they are first asked to make an appointment for a Student Registration session. At this session, they are given a brief introduction to our agency, along with an information page (available in many languages) to take home with them. We gather some basic information at this session and students also complete a short placement test. This test indicates the general literacy level of each student to Literacy Advance staff, allowing us to place them in the appropriate class.

After registration, students are placed on our wait list. The average number of students on our waiting list has not dropped below 300 since 2008 and the average waiting time can be in excess of three months.

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How do I begin?
Start with Story Time! These one-hour tours are the starting point for all new volunteers and will introduce you to Literacy Advance through the stories of our students, volunteers, and other supporters. After that, and once you've decided whether you would like to tutor ABE or ESL we ask that you register for and attend our Tutor Training Workshop (contact our Volunteer Manager for a list of current dates). After completion, you will be ready to start your own class!

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I'm not sure which program will suit me best. How can I decide?
All new tutors should feel free to start in the program in which they feel the most comfortable and confident. You may also like to consider the following factors:

  • ABE students already speak English, so verbal communication is generally easier, but as the program is one-on-one, it can require more planning and preparation than other programs. With the emphasis on reading and writing, ABE classrooms are often quiet and studious, and it is often easier to stick to planned materials.
  • ESL students may have some trouble communicating verbally, but with a small group of students all at approximately the same language level, the focus can shift more easily from person to person. With the emphasis on conversation, ESL classrooms are often noisier (many times, the noise is laughter!), and the lesson can take unexpected twists and turns as questions arise and the topic changes unexpectedly, leaving the lesson plan behind!
  • Supplemental Classes are a great option for tutors with a special skill they would like to share, e.g. résumé writing skills or computer skills and/or for those who are unable to meet the 48-hour commitment. Special Classes are a wonderful means for us to offer a richer and more varied learning experience for our students, but are definitely an addition to our schedule of Regular Classes. If you are able to commit to a Regular Class, that is definitely where you can help most.

If you would like to discuss this further before committing, please contact the Literacy Advance Programs Team.

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What are the next steps after I complete the volunteer tutor training?
After you've finished the training, Literacy Advance staff will work with you to set up a class for your preferred days, times and class level. Some tutors want to begin immediately, but it is also fine to wait for short time if necessary. Please be aware that at high traffic times, such as weekday evenings and on Saturdays, it can take longer for classroom space to be available. However, we will always work within tutors' desired schedules to the best of our ability.

Ready to start? Get in touch to find out about the upcoming Tutor Training schedule so that you can register for a workshop.

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How can I get started?
Request more information about being a Literacy Advance volunteer tutor (including a sign-up form), or contact our Volunteer Manager at 713.266.8777 or tutor@literacyadvance.org.

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