One experience from my elementary school years that has influenced my beliefs as an educator is that teachers would regularly point out to my parents that my writing was very untidy and oftentimes terribly smudged. In kindergarten they had even considered failing me because my skills in the use of scissors was not meeting expectations. For someone who likes school and eventually did well, I clearly did not have a marvelous start.
The interesting thing is that all of these alleged shortcomings had a very straightforward explanation and an even simpler solution. I was, and still am, left-handed. Thankfully, I was born after left-handed people were forced to convert handedness. When using scissors I was using a tool designed for right-handers. When writing, I not only had to work on developing the necessary level of hand dexterity, but I also had to slowly learn to adjust the way in which I positioned my hand so that it would not slide over what I had just written. And to top it all up, I was sat to the right of a right-hander so our elbows kept colliding, leading to random lines coming out of my letters. I suppose nobody, except my parents, had taken the time to notice that I was left-handed, let alone think of how to adapt the learning environment to my skills and needs.
What was the solution? Well, I was moved to the left of the right-hander so my letters no longer had lines shooting in different directions caused by our elbows colliding as we wrote. And eventually, I learned to place my hand in way that it would not run over the text as I wrote. I am not sure what the solution was for the use of scissors, other than that I managed to learn how to use those designed for right-handers. Fortunately, nowadays these basic implements include designs with symmetrical handles for either left or right hand use or even reversed blades that allow left-handers to see the lines they are cutting!
As absurd is it may sound, one of my biggest fears as I embark in this new path is how I will manage to write legibly and at a reasonable speed on the board using my left hand. I must admit that when it comes to handwriting I am still fully left-handed, but I have become a decent right-hander when writing on boards. I have not resolved this arguably shallow matter yet, but I am hoping that eventually I will come up with a good solution.
As teachers we need to take the time to observe our students carefully, so that we can identify their needs, their skills, their dreams and fears and their challenges, rather than rushing to conclusions about their shortcomings and limitations.
Looking back at my elementary and high school years as well as my years in college, I understand that I had a number of teachers who were able to propel my learning forward, teachers who succeeded at creating an engaging environment that sparked students’ interest and curiosity.
When I finished high school I decided to pursue a career in languages, more specifically translation. The interesting thing about translators is that we learn a little bit of everything as we have to translate all kinds of documents from airplane manuals to birth certificates, to medical reports. For many years, I loved my profession, but after working at home for almost two decades I started feeling very lonely. During high school, I had quite enjoyed tutoring children who struggled with English. It had given me great joy to see those children grow and make progress. As I did not have a teaching license, I decided to teach Spanish for adults at the local community centre. My first group was quite large, with sixteen students who ranged in level and age. Preparing classes for many levels and interests was a challenge, but I looked forward to every class and it was very rewarding to see my students learn and enjoy the experience.
When my children started school, I had the opportunity to volunteer in their classroom. I would help with reading on Tuesdays, during field trips or with other tasks such as organizing students’ art books. A few years ago, I was also contacted by a local high school whose Spanish teacher had left a few months before the end of the school. They were looking for someone to take over temporarily. This time the challenge was different as I had to teach grade 10 students who no longer idolize their teachers and had little interest in learning Spanish. After the first class, I realized I had to adapt the content to make it more relevant to their lives in order to engage these young adults. Although I was not able to change the learning experience these students had had during the previous months, this new approach eventually led to improved student engagement. This experience was very inspiring as it shows the teacher’s ability to identify student’s skills, goals, interests and fears is key for a successful learning experience.
These experiences slowly led me to realize how much I missed and enjoyed being in a learning environment and the happiness student growth used to bring me. The contrast between the feelings of isolation and loneliness working from home caused in me and the joy and satisfaction teaching brought about slowly became very apparent and I realized it was time to make a change.
Although this new path has just begun, I am very excited about one day having my own classroom. I believe all children have something special and are capable of learning. Just like I was a curious child who was eager to learn, I look forward to inspiring in my students that desire to learn and to find out more, to help them grow and develop their skills and overcome their challenges in an engaging and loving learning environment.