Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Mask

It’s happened a few times now.

Everything appears to be going well. The students are contributing enthusiastically, writing when asked, chatting in pairs when that is requested, and contributing to the brainstorm of ideas I’m hurriedly writing on the board.

I thoroughly enjoy working with adults who are returning to study. So often they are unreasonably nervous. They don’t yet know how competent they are, so they feel quite entitled to be quivering with uncertainty. My job is to assist them to accept that they’ve 'got what it takes' and to unearth the skills they don’t yet know they have.

We discuss how adults learn, the different learning styles, and when time permits, we also squeeze in some light-hearted quizzes. It’s all in the service of unpacking the mystery of expectations at the tertiary level, and ensuring success is attainable.

Sometimes however, things go a little askew. You see, when discussing learning styles, it quickly becomes apparent that many adults I work with have grown up in the “sit still, do as I say, and don’t ask questions” classroom.

As you can imagine, for someone who is for instance a kinaesthetic learner, this hasn’t worked to their advantage, and their schooling has been less than ideal. Some struggle on suffering in silence, some withdraw completely, and others act up and get kicked out at the earliest opportunity.

I’ve learnt to keep a tissue box on hand when presenting this particular workshop. It’s not that I’m a meanie, and bring students to tears. But often there’s a release of pent up tension that results in weeping, and on occasion outright sobbing.

Tears of grief, tears of sadness at schooling wasted because teachers haven’t known about or have been unable to accommodate different styles of learning. Sometimes this is due to ignorance, often there were too many children in a class, and occasionally… well, some teachers had lost their passion for teaching, and possibly should have changed careers.

But often the tears are those of relief. Some adults are so relieved to discover they aren’t stupid. It’s a revelation for them to discover they simply learn differently. They feel validated, reassured, and empowered. They are ready to forge ahead with new tools and a different perspective.

What a privilege not only to help adult students realize that learning can be fun, but that academic success is within their grasp.



Hart Johnson said...

I think it's great that you do this. I've always been pretty academic, but my husband, and now my daughter, are the 'hands-on' types. My husband is currently doing prerequisites for nursing school and had huge mental blocks about his ability to learn in a classroom, but FINALLY I think has gotten how to go about learning in a way that works for him (a lot of practice, mostly). I wish he'd has a course like yours many years ago.

sue said...

good on your husband for giving it a go Hart. Classrooms can be really daunting for so many adults, and very scary. It's good he's found a way to learn that suits him, and I'm sure you're reminding him to take it one small step at a time. Wish him all the best from me please. Oh, and remember to celebrate often!

Helen Ginger said...

Until I had kids, I taught college level. I loved the night classes the most. I had adult students who wanted to be there, not teenagers who were going just to be going. Of course, not all the teens were like that, but definitely none of my adult students were. Most of my night classes were Public Speaking so the adult students, the majority of whom had jobs, always had interesting things to speak about.

Cruella Collett said...

This is very interesting. I had a great teacher from the first to seveth grade. She would test out various teaching methods on us, to find what suited each individual the best. I have always been the fairly traditional type in that I prefer blackboard lectures to interactive lessons, but I am glad I have walked through many different ways of learning because once I reached university and suddenly became my own "boss", I would have been lost had it not been for previous practise of "teach yourself".

It sounds like you are passionate about your job, and I think that is so great. I hope to find a career that makes me feel that way (and I really hope it will be one that allows me to also write).

sue said...

Helen, I agree, teaching teenagers can be great, but they can be a pain sometimes. Adults have to make a huge commitment to attend classes and usually get a buzz from learning.

Cruella, do you mean you had the one teacher from first to seventh grade? Gosh. I don't think that would ever happen here, and to have your learning style assessed so thoroughly...WOW. A lot of students here do get lost at Uni, they don't know how to work independently and see themselves as failures.

I do love my work, and I'm so pleased that came through; thankyou :) Over the years I've found I'm happier when I work in a variety of jobs. I'm very fortunate to be able to balance my work interests. Finding and keeping a work/life balance is a lifelong challenge but worth pursuing! (and for you it must include your writing!)

Cruella Collett said...

Yes, we had the same teacher for six years (one through seventh is actually misleading, because somewhere in there we had a reform to make kids start school a year earlier, which meant that those of us already in school "skipped" a grade - we didn't really, but I have never been in a class called sixth grade). She didn't teach every subject, of course, but I did have her at least once a day every day for six years... Strange to think about now, actually.

sue said...

ah ha, now I understand Cruella. It seemed a bit tough to have the same teacher every day for all subjects, for both the teacher AND the students!