There are hundreds of non-profits in New Haven, and even more volunteer opportunities, but two years ago, when she moved to New Haven after graduating college with a degree in Comparative Literature, Kiernan chose Literacy Volunteers.
"Literacy Volunteers seemed like the perfect opportunity to combine my interests in languages and teaching while learning a bit more about my new city." Though she was excited by the challenge of working with adults from around the world, Kiernan admits to having her concerns about how instructing such a diverse group of students would work.
"Going into the program, I was concerned about teaching to a level that would be accessible to the less experienced students yet still engaging for the more advanced students. I was surprised and impressed to see how collaborative the classes were from the first moment. Students were eager to answer each others' questions and confident to ask their own. Their enthusiasm made it easy for my co-tutor and me to adapt the lessons to their interests."
In addition to her students' enthusiasm, Kiernan was impressed by the bravery of her students.
"Most of us have difficulty communicating our thoughts in our native language and a comfortable setting. ESL students work to achieve the same goal in a foreign language, in a foreign setting, with internal and external pressures to succeed always at the back of their minds. It would be easy for them to give up on expressing complex thoughts, to settle for saying not quite what they want to, or even to avoid class. Instead, most of my students show up each week with smiles on their faces, ready to take risks and driven to work through mistakes and misunderstandings. That takes courage, and my students constantly impress me with it."
Thanks to her experiences at Literacy Volunteers, Kiernan has the courage to pursue the next step in her career.
"[W]orking with Literacy Volunteers...motivated me to pursue a career in education. I discovered the joy I find in the classroom, and I believe that my best opportunity to improve my community is through education. Literacy Volunteers helped me find the confidence and drive to do that."
Kiernan plans to attend graduate school in order to receive her TESOL (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages) certification and become a literacy teacher.