Four days of training for Minnesota Reading Corps members. Perhaps the largest and most corporate-feeling event that I’ve ever been a part of. I don’t mean that as an insult to the organization. Just that it was my first foray into the working world, so it was a new type of experience.
Imagine about eight hundred people, most of them dressed in red, packed into a ballroom at the River Centre in St. Paul. Imagine those same eight hundred people milling the hallways during morning and afternoon breaks. Let me tell you, if you lost someone in that crowd, there was no hope of finding them again. And if your presenter lets your group out late for afternoon break, you can forget getting one of those complimentary cookies.
Yes, they gave us afternoon snacks. In a group ranging from age twenty to sixty, snacks are still a universal hit. I was amused by the way they upped the ante over the course of the week. First day popcorn, second day cookies, third day ice cream treats, fourth day cupcakes. Really pretty cupcakes too. Working for a large organization definitely has its perks. Another perk would be the swag. We received a T-shirt, polo shirt, and fleece jacket on the third day, all in the MRC’s signature red. That didn’t exactly help the chaos in the hallways.
Of course, the point of training was not to give us free stuff. It was to prepare us to be literacy tutors. After two days of focusing on the big picture, it was a relief to start learning the interventions that we’ll be doing with kids. (Intervention is the rather scary MRC word for the activities designed to help kids practice reading skills. I definitely won’t be like, “Hey, Timmy, we’re trying a new intervention today.”)
Since there aren’t any kids handy at the River Centre, we had to practice on each other. Believe or not, being the fake student was more stressful than being the teacher. You need to purposely make mistakes so that the teacher can practice corrections, which requires messing up skills that have been second nature for years. For instance, letter sounds. It’s been so long since I actually thought about letter sounds that it caused me some trepidation. Once you know that vowels can make many different sounds depending on context, it’s hard to always make short vowels sounds. But that’s why we practice, I guess.
The most value part about training was having the second- and third-year members there to offer advice and answer questions. I’m sure they wanted to die of boredom (as one third-year member said, “shoot me in the foot”), but they have the nitty-gritty information about how the different inventions work. Plus they can share field-tested ideas about how to make the activities your own that don’t necessarily make it into the member handbook.