Thursday, June 14, 2012

Creating Your Own Path

When I was a student at school I spent years feeling like a failure. My sister is extremely gifted as a learner and was diligent and studious. She possessed all of the learning behaviours that were simply perfect in the 70's and 80's. While the chalk wrote, the textbooks turned and teacher rattled on, she sat absorbing information like a massively absorbent sponge. She was a teacher's dream.

Somewhere, far from that perfect picture, loomed her less-than-perfect sibling. My parents described me a 'challenging' child. Not so much because I was horrendously behaved, but because I challenged everything, agreed with little, was motivated by nothing in a traditional classroom and basically bounced around like an ADHD child on coke. Nobody recognised a bored learner.

You may wonder why I dwell on what would seem to be a negative experience, especially someone who ended up being a teacher! But the reality is, I am better teacher BECAUSE of my struggles as a learner. They did not break me or define me as a failure, they simply created a natural problem-solver. You see, if my teachers asked us to do something that I thought was a waste of time, I would spend my learning time working out different and better ways to achieve the same goal. I also spent a lot of time out of the classroom having been removed because I asked too many questions. It gave me a valuable tool as a teacher because questioning is a strength that is essential!

Instead of my own learning experiences damaging me, I had a great family who grew me as lifelong learner, regardless of my difficulties at school. I still chuckle at my old school reports which are filled with statements such as: needs to talk less and she would achieve more; needs to follow instructions; does not have all of the answers, in fact, does not have anything but questions; would achieve more if she was interested. But where were the moments of celebration for the unique and perfectly normal learner? Well, my parents were behind me the whole way and I certainly managed to get through the rigors of exams just fine. In looking back, I realise that actually it was because I was willing to forge my own path REGARDLESS of the ideals that education presented (and that I constantly fell short of!)

But it makes me also wonder how much we do now to ensure that each child's path is clear and that they are able to truly forge their own way. I believe that as educators we should try to recognise and embrace the ones who stray from the main path, and help them to journey regardless. I had a family that empowered me to achieve and to learn, but many of our own students lack that support and it's essential for us to be their cheer team when no one else will or no one else can.

Creating your own path is a challenging and wonderful thing. I took almost half of my life to realise that I was a learner and the other half of my life has been dedicated to helping others realise their potential too.

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