There were the street kids, with drug and alcohol issues, the kids with learning difficulties, the adults with learning difficulties, the adults who'd been kicked out of school as soon as schools could get rid of them and who were returning to study absolutely terrified of suffering in 'the system' again, the mums returning to study or preparing to enter the workforce, the teenage mums unsure about how they'd be accepted, the mature blokes confessing that they hated their jobs and who were desperate for a new direction.
Hmm, on re-reading the above paragraphs, I'd have to admit that some of my clients haven't been quite so ethical, and perhaps warm hearted is a bit of a stretch too, but courageous? Yes absolutely!
I'm going to share the story about my involvement with Ricky, and he's given me permission to use his real name. I wish I had a 'before' and 'after' picture of him to share. You'll see why soon.
Ricky consulted me in my role as study skills teacher at a post secondary college. He'd been advised to seek help as he was really struggling with the written aspects of the course he'd enrolled in. You can't really tell from my photo, but I'm not exactly a large person, in fact the phrase "suffering from ducks disease" has been applied to me all too often *sigh*.
I also like to think that I'm not a particularly threatening looking person. But Ricky was terrified. Terrified of me, terrified of the situation he'd got himself into, terrified I'd laugh at him and his difficulties. But he came along anyway. Courage? You bet!
I've never seen anyone shaking with fear before. And shake Ricky did. It was visible from a distance. I'm sure if he'd been a bony kind of person I'd have heard them clattering.
Why was Ricky in such a state? Here was a mature man, lovingly married, deeply involved in his church, steadily employed, kind and compassionate. Over quite a few months he shared some of his story.
He was "a failure", "hopeless", "useless", "a loser". He'd been told from a very young age that he'd "never make anything of himself". These words were used on a little kid by parents AND teachers. Who says "sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me?" Wrong, wrong, wrong.
I asked him when he'd begun losing his way at school. "Grade one". It's a question I often ask now, and regularly the answer is grade one or two. Can you imagine what that's like? Not understanding what's going on in class, seeing your mates doing things you can't, being bewildered, confused, perplexed. My heart breaks for these kids.
So there I was with Ricky in that first session. His first 'confession' - "I've never been in a library" (apart from walking through one to meet with me). "Easy peasy" I say, "lets discover this one now!" And so it went from there, exploring discovering, celebrating. It was great!
And as happens when working with an enthusiastic student, the learning went both ways. I was humbled by his tenacity, in awe of his dedication to learning, and grateful that we'd been assigned to each other. In short I was privileged to have met and worked with such a student.
Oh, and you may ask: if Ricky was such a good student, why hadn't he managed at school?
Ricky had an undiagnosed learning difficulty. He has an unusual hearing loss, he's not deaf as such, but hears sounds differently (auditory processing disorder or APD). In addition, he is dyslexic. He wasn't (and isn't) dumb. He just couldn't follow what was happening in class the same way as other kids - he needed a different teaching style.
And the before and after picture? From a quivering mess on that first meeting to our final session; confident, assured and walking tall.
There was a man with courage to really face his worst fears and overcome them.