At Work

Monique Harris, instructional program director, Baltimore Reads

December 21, 2008|By Nancy Jones-Bonbrest | Nancy Jones-Bonbrest,Special to The Baltimore Sun

Salary: $42,000

Age: 36

Years on the job: Two

How she got started: Harris grew up in Trinidad but moved back to Toronto, where she was born, to attend college. She received a bachelor's degree in English from York University. She also holds an International Education Diploma from the London Montessori Centre.

Before coming to Baltimore, Harris worked in early childhood education at Montessori schools in Toronto. She moved to Baltimore to be with her fiance and began volunteering as a tutor with Baltimore Reads, a nonprofit that specializes in teaching adult literacy. She also worked as a substitute teacher in Baltimore public schools.

Harris found that she enjoyed working with older students and decided to take the job as an instructional specialist with Baltimore Reads.

Typical day: Harris' main focus involves developing, reviewing and improving the curriculum for programs offered at Baltimore Reads. Day and evening classes are offered free during four, three-month sessions. Programs include classes for nonreaders, English as a second language, pre-GED (General Educational Development) learning and GED education. Harris said the curriculum is something that is always improving and changing. She works closely with the five teachers on staff, concentrating on professional development and supplying them with new ideas.

"I'm still able to be a part of the classroom, but my primary function is to lead and mentor the team."

Her time is divided between office work and coordinating with the staff to make sure programming is on target. Although she often works typical office hours, the organization's small staff requires that she sometimes works evenings and weekends.

To create a curriculum, Harris looked to states such as Florida and Arizona that have well-known models for adult literacy programs. Also, the state of Maryland has an assessment testing system with benchmark goals to meet, which helped identify key components of the curriculum.

Last year, 300 students were served by the organization, which is celebrating 20 years of service. There is generally a waiting list to get into classes, and participants can repeat classes as needed.

Much of the struggle of teaching adult literacy focuses on ridding students of bad learning habits they have picked up over the years, Harris said, which makes it a difficult task. Many of the students are there to get their GED, but others attend to learn to read. Often, students at the center also have some form of learning disability.

"Success is measured by each student. You praise the little steps along the way."

Teaching adults: "You have to find material that is relevant to everyday life," Harris said, adding that teachers are not there to spoon-feed students information but rather to fill in the gaps.

The good: "Feeling like I made a difference. It keeps you coming back."

The bad: "Not being able to help everyone. When you lose a student, that's difficult."

Philosophy: "Get over it and get it done."

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