Retirement still busy for teacher
Linda Augustyn with Anaesia Versey, one of the many students she has helped over the years. | Provided
Updated: April 1, 2013 6:38AM
OAK PARK — Retired educator Linda Augustyn no longer teaches for a living, but she will always be a teacher.
The 27-year Oak Park resident retired last year after serving as the English department chair at Downers Grove North High School. Before that, Augustyn taught at Proviso West High School, where she also served as chair of the English department.
Now she volunteers five days a week for the Chicago-based literacy program Open Books.
Augustyn keeps a busy schedule in retirement, participating in three Open Books VWrite Program reading programs at three different Chicago schools each week. In addition she works with the Boys Foundation to help other high school students prepare for the ACT test, and coaches college-bound students in Oak Park in essay writing.
In her spare time, she takes classes at the University of Chicago.
Augustyn works with both students preparing to face the challenges of college, and those struggling just to learn the basics of reading and writing.
Others have noticed her passion and dedication.
“Linda is one of the longest serving and most devoted volunteers at Open Books,” said program spokesman Rosie Gillam. In her volunteer role, Gillam said, Augustyn frequently “has gone above and beyond her duties.”
For Augustyn, reading and writing are not just powerful tools for succeeding in life. They are essential paths to understanding oneself. But that pathway to the world is closed to the uneducated. It is a path Augustyn relishes showing to children and young people.
It is a path, Augustyn says, that is as open and long and wide and rewarding as a person is willing to work to make it. And one she wants to see as many people as possible walk.
“For me, teaching kids of all ability levels has been my passion for 35 years. I’ve always loved teaching. It’s wonderful. And what’s wonderful about it is I can see growth.
“To have an ability to mentor children one on one or a one to three basis, and help them to achieve (even) the smallest of literary skills, to help them grow, and help them see their worth, is incredibly powerful.”
She deals with an array of ability levels.
“I teach advanced placement kids, and struggling kids as well,” she said. “That’s part of what makes Open Books exciting.”
Working with students at all levels has its rewards.
“I work with a third grader, on letter and word recognition. She’s bi-lingual, but struggles with recognizing written words. I have the most wonderful sense of watching her being launched into a world of literacy.”
She said there are many ways to approach reading and writing.
“The world is a complex world (that is) encountered through reading and writing. I’m working with one girl, who is working with an extended metaphor using Cassius Clay, Muhammad Ali. Contextual learning means something to her. To hear in (her) own story the power of simile and metaphor is powerful.”
For Augustyn, reading and writing are more than just tools to be used to succeed in the marketplace. They are a way in to greater self-awareness and understanding.
“It opens them to a larger world of ideas. To find out the world is filled with questions, and they have a right to jump in and try to find answers,” she said. “They’re using writing to make themselves visible, visible to a wider world and to themselves.”
She said that greatly impacts how her students perceive their lives.
“They’re more confident in their life journey. More honest regarding that life journey.”
One of the most satisfying things for Augustyn is seeing writing matter to young people.
“There’s only two types of writing I’ve ever seen kids really want to get right- personal memoirs and college essays. There’s a high-stakes connection for them,” she said.
She said people don’t have to possess her level of expertise to work as a volunteer.
“There’s a need for people to step in and help,” she said.
“It’s just the most amazing gift of time you can give,” she added.
“Volunteering, whether it’s a day or two or five, is the most life affirming thing you can do.”