WAVE committee member Tanya Edison shares her story about her unique learning challenges and how they made her a better teacher.
In my world, tailor-made learning brings the same confidence as a well-made suit.
… But first a little history of my brain.
I write upside-down, or top-to-bottom as it was described by a coworker after seeing my pen-women-ship. He watched agape for years as I filled in my field-level hazard assessments each morning before work on construction sites in Edmonton.
I am left-handed. I adapted to sitting in a right-hand desk as a kid by flipping my paper upside-down. It stuck, no matter how many times a teacher would straighten it out. I adapted as a ‘difficult’ learner (I will call it that for now). I inconvenienced the janitor on the first day of every school year as he would have to dig through the storage area under the dark, silverfish-infested bleachers for the mythical left-hander’s desk, probably covered in cobwebs. I would stand there in front of the class while we did introductions. Every year those introductions were interrupted by a sweaty man in dusty coveralls lamenting, “Nope, couldn’t find one.” To which I would be directed to take whatever seat was left…at the back.
I didn’t get a diagnosis of Dyslexia until my early 30s. It was an AHA! moment for me. The therapist told me to read as much as I could. So I read with a vengeance. I thought it was a way to retrain my brain; to fix me. I thought if I was successful with reading I would be as smart and accomplished as my brothers.
I still have the same upside-down brain and the same learning issues and the same smart brothers 30 years later.
…And I wouldn’t change a thing.
All these quirks set up a pathway that I have to negotiate when I learn new things. I am completely aware of my need to be hands-on. When there are opportunities to get dirty, I jump right in. I have to. My mother calls me ambitious, and others thought I was a bit too adventurous, but I don’t have the luxury of learning any other way.
I have more scars and stories than certificates! That works for me.
These days, I spend my time in and out of an office. I have moved from being a painter in construction for 25 years, to someone who teaches about home maintenance to first time home owners. I have been given a marvelous opportunity to explore and observe how others learn in a job that serves a diverse clientele. I am now the teacher. Many of my clients are immigrant, young, single moms or married women who fill the traditional role of stay-at-home moms. The English language can sometimes be challenging and pressures to live “Western” can be intimidating for them. I feel like they know what it is to be directed to the back of the class, and that gives me a starting point where my most useful tools are empathy and compassion.
It is always a treat if the clients I am teaching love to open a book and can thrive through a relationship with letters and numbers. I envy that. (Shhh! don’t tell anyone, but that kind of learner makes my job a little too easy and I am going to be asking for a raise soon...) In this case, I just connect the right resource information or create documents using my experience, and share through well-kerned and type-faced documents. Simple.
But the fun part of my job, and the part that comes with the greatest rewards, are when I find other difficult learners like me. For the record, I want to get rid of that term difficult, or even the term challenging. These learners, the ones that require you to go past the textbook, are actually greater teachers than they will ever know!
They are Creative Learners. Capital C, capital L! Bold, bold, bold!
I love them! Instead of having 100% of your focus spotlighted on the subject you are teaching, you have to delve into the “science” of them and get that microscope out! You have to peer into their environment, their history, their relationship with confidence. Relationship with confidence? Yes! If there is a fear before learning, something is lost.
If the focus for the learner is all internal questions like...
“Who is looking at me? Will I fail?”
How can there be room for information to be absorbed? How do we move from this moment of apprehension to moving forward and learning something that could potentially change your life and the life of your family for the better?
I believe this is worth answering before spending too much time on replacing a T&P valve on a water heater or how to build a deck.
I will fully acknowledge that I am fortunate that when I teach, it’s to individuals in one-on-one scenarios. Not at all like a formal school. Sometimes, I don’t get it right the first time. I know in the moment when that is happening. Nervous laughter, eyes looking elsewhere, attention easily diverted. The alarm bells go off and there’s a woman on a loudspeaker in my head announcing, “We got a Creative Learner here!” and “ALL HANDS ON DECK!”
Seriously, there is nothing better than connecting with a Creative Learner.
When I hit them in the brain pleasure center of how they like to learn, I create a relationship of trust and appreciation. I not only teach skills to help save money and live healthier, but I teach worthiness. I am helping to tailor-make a suit that will have that person walking, no, strutting with confidence throughout our subject. When I get it right, we end up where I want us to be - in a mentorship relationship.
If it’s possible for you invest in the creative learner with all the time you saved from the beautiful bookworms, you will have given a gift so much greater than you will ever be able to quantify.
I have been conscious of doing this everyday with the hundreds of people that I have worked with over the past five years. I have been looking at my clients and asking myself “What tells me about this person that will help me help them find their path?” Smiles tell me a lot. Engaging conversation and relaxed body language lets me know I have found them. These reactions to my teaching are rewards; for them, and, for me. Reciprocity. Symbiotic and collaborative. What the world needs more of.
I am asking to join them in learning. Not the other way around. I ask, “What do they need?” Not, “What do I have?” That question “What do I have to contribute?” comes later. (Realistically, what I have isn’t always enough, so it is obviously not the right place to start.)
All of my clients are unique. We all struggle at something. That’s life. But to find success in my job and to share it with others every day is a lesson in humility. We are walking down this path together, hand-in-hand, on a journey of learning. It is humbling and rewarding, and it reminds me of that young girl who desperately wanted to learn but could not navigate her path alone.
For all of us Creative Learners, to me, the key is to let us know that we are more important than the subject, and to find ways to join us on our path.