Having done research most of my life into learning, and especially learning when there are struggles of any kind present, I have discovered a few things. One is that no one is a learning or teaching expert. No one has all the answers. Two is that anyone can learn, no matter their problems, if they are given the proper access to information. Three, most parents, mother or father, usually know their child better than anyone else. Four, everything else is grey.
If “everything else is grey,” then just what does that mean? Are we who have struggles learning (those of us that learning just doesn’t come naturally) without hope? That takes me back to lesson number two. Anyone can learn, no matter their problem, if they are given the proper access to information. Nowadays, most can accept that anyone can learn. Our past didn’t always show that belief, though, as disabled people, mentally and physically, were often locked away in attics and institutions to wither and fade away by those ashamed that their genes held such incompetencies. Fortunately, civilized people have come to realize that those long held beliefs were just myths. That said, we still struggle as a whole to find the key to unlocking the mind and pouring knowledge and skills into the brain. We haven’t found how to bring proper access to everyone. Scholars fight over it. Students struggle and suffer with the experimental processes. Parents anguish over feeling helpless. How do we achieve “proper access”?
I don’t have the answers either. I have learned a lot through personal experience, but I don’t have answers. I don’t mind saying that. Of course, saying it comes easier to me probably because I am not, have never been, nor ever will be, one of the “experts”. I was born with genetic progressive hearing loss and vision loss. I was later diagnosed as an adult with learning disabilities including dyslexia and dyscalculia and other visual and auditory processing disorders, after struggling with reading, short-term memory problems, and math all my life. Everything combined made the single problems worse.
I was born when little was known about genetics or learning disabilities of any kind. The struggle to learn was my own. Caring parents did their best, and their best went a long way, but times were different in the 1960’s. Parents, by and large, sent their children to be taught at conventional schools by conventional teachers who were considered better qualified to do the job. That was a working solution for those who fit in the normally accepted sized and shaped box. I didn’t fit in that box. Teachers didn’t know what to do with me. All, no matter how good and compassionate, would eventually become frustrated with the struggle and blame me with some doing so verbally and one even physically. They just didn’t know how to teach me.
I am a survivor by nature, though. Genes I inherited from my parents who were quiet over-comers drove me to find my own way, and find my own way, I did. I became an avid learner, excelling in everything with A’s but math (muddling through those courses as high as I could go, with mostly B’s). I tried everything I could think of to remember vocabulary, understand and retain what I read, memorize multiplication tables, dates and important people of needed events, or how to find them quickly if not so needed, formulas, math rules, and whatever else I deemed important that “smart people” knew. It wasn’t easy, and many things weren’t even close to mastery until I was an adult doing what I do. Though I initially wanted to go into the medical field and help people, I eventually found that I had to admit it to myself and choose the field that only made sense for a person as obsessed with learning as I was, education. Seem ironic? It probably is ironic that a person who has trouble learning, but is determined to learn, is destined to become a teacher. That is me, though.
Some may say that is also a recipe for a bad teacher, but I have always worked hard to know what I need to teach. The few times I couldn’t answer a question, I refused to lie. I admitted I didn’t know and that we would find the answer together. I was willing to try many different ways to help a student understand and learn to love learning. The key was to get to know my student and see the world the way that he did. That isn’t easy, even if the student can think and speak, because they usually don’t understand what is wrong either. You just have to try different things and see what works and try to analyze why. Truth is, you learn more from your mistakes much of the time than you do from your successes. For me, I used my own experiences trying to learn to give me ideas to get started.
I also quickly learned that involved parents knew their children far better than I could know them because I only got to see the students in certain academic and fairly controlled environments where the student was often not comfortable. Parents saw their students in relaxed settings and doing activities that they loved to do and where they had developed some learning skills. Together as a team we could ensure more successes in the process.
As I’ve said, I have learned that no one is an expert, but an involved parent or a person who cares enough to be involved is enough to be access to learning for any child because every child is capable of learning. Most people may say that is a well-known fact, but too many educators tend to put too much stock in supposed learning theories and educational philosophies that give no benefit in the real world and refuse to look at other sources closer to home and think out of the box. Some tend to look down on those who do as being unqualified and wish to put them in their place. I am not an expert. I just help students learn to know themselves; those who live and learn the hard way.