by Charlie Riebling
Charlie is serving as an Instructor at Academy of Hope - an adult education organization in Washington, DC.
When I began working at Academy of Hope two months ago I had no idea what to expect. I knew that as an intern instructor at an adult education facility I would be leading classes, advising learners, and doing other office tasks like scheduling. What I did not know was that I was walking into a wonderfully vibrant community that exuded caring, creativity, and love. My short time so far at AoH has brought to light and subsequently dispelled many stereotypes about adult education that I was not even aware I had. At first I was terrified at the thought of trying to teach adults in a classroom setting, but after having finished a full term, I can honestly say I have never had a richer or enlightening teaching experience. As the first cycle of classes has come to an end, I am realizing how excited I am to begin a new one, refreshed and energized. I go to work every day with a smile on my face and an eagerness to see the people I work with. The community that has been built in this space is inspirational to say the least, and it all has to do with the one word we find most important in our work – hope.
The environment at Academy of Hope each day reminds me of a family reunion. The day starts out quietly. Although work does not start until 8 a.m., I arrive around 7:00 each morning. I really love this time because it has a unique mixture of calm and anticipation for the upcoming day. A few learners trickle in around 8:00 to chat or to get some extra tutoring. The real party starts around 8:30 when learners begin to arrive for their 9:00 classes. From my office I can hear the growing murmur of people asking about each other’s lives, families, weekends, classes or any number of random topics – bed bugs being one of my favorites. Each day begins in this way. At first, I assumed that this energy would wind down as the term went on, but every morning I walk in knowing that in two hours I will be surrounded by a group of people full of joy, determination, and a genuine passion for learning.
As I reflect on my first few months here, I am motivated by the determination of both the staff and the learners. In what has been one of my favorite classes this term, my writing class, I handed out a list of twelve writing topics for learners to work on throughout the term, one for each class period. The next day, a learner stopped by my office and handed me a stack of twelve papers, each with a paragraph written about one of those topics. She explained to me that she had written them on her work break and while she was waiting to attend a parent-teacher meeting. I could barely find words to say as she told me that she wanted me to come up with more writing topics. Afterwards, all I could think about was how frustrated I was with the half an hour of grading I did the night before, and yet this woman was asking for more homework on top of all of her other responsibilities. It is such a humbling and moving experience for me to work with someone so actively involved in all the areas of her life. This sort of thing, however, is not by any means unusual at AoH. Every learner I have worked with has an incredible drive to succeed. Their goals are not only to get a GED or a diploma, but to inspire their children to learn, to get job promotions or to prove that they are much more than just a test score. They set out to prove every day that they are capable of overcoming obstacles they have faced throughout their lives and to disprove the stereotypes that surround adult learners.
This brings me back to my original point – hope. We say that we are the Academy of Hope, but what does that mean? I think it means we try to integrate hard work, humor, community, and more into adult education. Hope requires determination. It’s not always (if ever) easy to achieve the things for which we hope. We have to work hard; sometimes we work hard just to make time in our lives for our jobs, learning, and friends all at once. Sometimes we work against entire systems of oppression in order to pursue happiness and to try to make the world a place in which those systems do not exist. I am proud that Academy of Hope works to help individual learners as well as to initiate important reforms in the adult education system. One without the other cannot achieve the goal of making quality education accessible to everyone regardless of social or economic status. Hope is about humor. There will be (and have been) days when something goes wrong – maybe a low test score or a personal or family emergency. Even in those times, it is reassuring to know that we can find something to smile or laugh about, and, more importantly, someone to smile and laugh with us.
Lastly, hope requires community. When it comes down to it, as a part of this world, we are all connected and constantly in relationship with those around us. Being in a community that actively supports its members as they work to achieve their goals and cares about the people both inside and outside of it is something that I cherish deeply about Academy of Hope. It is both refreshing and comforting to be in a space in which each individual is assured that they are not alone in whatever it is they are undertaking. I am proud to be a part of a community in which I can give hope to others, and I am thankful to the community for the hope it has given me even in these two short months.
In Their Own Words
We invite you to get to know Loretto Volunteers and the program here. Volunteers introduce themselves and reflect on their experiences.