The Impact

Celebrating people that are making a difference.

Featured Tutor: BILL BLACKFORD


Featured tutor Bill Blackford got a little more than he had bargained for when he first begin volunteering at Each One Teach One SA. Read his story and how doing the unexpected paid off for him.“How would you feel about teaching math?”“Uh, I guess I haven’t thought about it?”


But inside I was thinking that math is not what I had in mind when I read the article about Each One Teach One in the paper.


As an empty-nester, I wanted to volunteer to do something. You know: a give-back-to-the-community thing. The Express-News article about Each One Teach One intrigued me. My thinking was that since I could read, surely I could teach someone else to read as well. But that’s reading, not math. My background is such that while I’ve used basic math and algebra almost every day at work and in the normal ebb and flow of life (I fell in love with spreadsheets 30 years ago), I neither have a teaching background nor a memory able to reconstruct my own educational experience adequately enough to instruct others.


But here comes sweet, little Esther Villa, half my size, and she winds up and hurls a screwball right at me, high and inside. Too late to duck, so I stand there and take one for the team.


“Sure, I can do that.”


Esther paired me up with a young lady studying for her GED. My student, Isabel Rico, has been diagnosed with dyscalculia, a learning disorder I’ve heard described as dyslexia for numbers. Now that really threw a wrench into the works. Not possessing a teaching background I thought was bad enough, but how could I think that I was qualified to teach someone with special needs, especially one I’d never even heard about, let alone understood what it is?


It’s been a little over a year now and while progress is slow, it is consistent, her learning curve being extended due to mine. In the process, I’ve read up on dyscalculia although not nearly enough to qualify as an expert. But we have had successes, and as I look back on the past 13 months I’m amazed how far Isabel’s come, that being due more to her dogged persistence than to any brilliance on my part. My biggest challenge has been to try seeing numbers through her eyes and coming up with unconventional ways to tap into her methods of comprehension. In a way, the failures we experience just help us weed out the useless options faster so we don’t dwell on them, rather we just turn the page and try something else.


All-in-all the progress is a testament to her patience with me. After all, she’s lived with the condition all of her life and understands it better that I do. So while I try to catch up with her we keep plugging along, and step-by-step we’ll get there.


For me, the payoff has been the growth of our relationship and doing something to help another with no expectation or desire for anything in return. But the home runs are those “Aha!” moments when a lesson clicks and I see it in her eyes and her smile. Folks, you can’t buy anything as satisfying as that.


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