My personal experience in education is colourful and varied. From the ever-curious and oh-so-impressionable pre-schoolers in kindergarten, to the growingly sophisticated primary students in grades 1-6, from ‘know-it-all’ juniors in grades 7-9, to the more serious-minded seniors in grade 10-12, from adults desperate to achieve basic academic certification in order to qualify for jobs, to juvenile delinquents hoping to stay out of trouble and off the streets, to EMR children with special needs, my teaching experience is a forty-three year adventure in learning, to say the least.
My initiation as a young, eager teacher was a grade 6 class in the city of Prince Rupert, an isolated fishing community on the coast of British Columbia, Canada, about 500 miles north of Vancouver. My final assignment as student-teacher took me to King Edward Elementary School, a school that served children of lower socio-economic families, many of them single-parent, fragile, dysfunctional, and some, abusive.
In October, only a month after I had begun my final practicum, the principal of the school approached me with an offer.
“I understand you would like a job in January,” he began.
Teaching positions at the time were scarce, so my response without hesitation was, “I’m definitely interested.”
“We will have a vacancy in January,” he continued.
I thought it a little unusual, since we were but a few weeks into the term.
My principal described the following situation.
By the middle of October, this class of 30 grade 6 students had driven two professional teachers to a nervous breakdown and had exhausted the full roster of substitute teachers. None would answer a second call; you couldn’t pay them enough to take this class of hooligans! The students were now under the firm hand of a diminutive, but seasoned, old-fashioned ‘school marm’ who had been coaxed out of comfortable retirement to hold off these budding ‘terrorists’ until ‘someone suitable’ could be found.
Would you sign up for this class?! In my naivete, I did.
Cleverly, I asked the principal to allow me to observe the class for the remainder of the term as a ‘student teacher’ being mentored by Mrs. McGibbon. “Don’t let the students know I am to be their teacher come January,” I begged.
Day after day I sat at the back of the class studying each student thoroughly, interacting with them whenever possible, learning not only their names, but how each thought—their likes, their dislikes, their family background, anything and everything that would help me understand who and what I was up against! I studied their every move.
Like a pack of vicious wolves they tried everything their mischievous minds could conjure to break down this brave old veteran. Only her courage, experience, wisdom and love for children carried Mrs. McGibbon safely through the entire term and back into welcome retirement.
You can imagine the initial shock on the faces of those students on the first day of the new term when I was introduced as their new teacher.
Their second response was equally predictable.
Almost imperceptibly, eyes flashed the message from student to student, ‘This rookie should be easy prey. Let the games begin!’
As I began to write on the chalkboard, one after another dug into their arsenal of mischief. But without turning around, I called each by name and by misdeed. By mid-day, the entire class was convinced Mr. Dahl had eyes in the back of his head!
The secret, I learned as the year progressed and these students began to achieve academic success, much to the amazement of the principal and the rest of the staff, was not really my cleverness, nor my diligence as a CIA spy, but something so simple yet often overlooked — RESPECT.
As these students saw that even under fire I respected them as people (not animals!), respected them as individuals (not a bunch of misfits!), respected their personal and academic potential (no teacher, not even their parents, thought they could amount to anything!), one by one surrendered and began a journey with me on a pathway of learning and discovery none of them even imagined existed.
My journey as an educator seemed to follow a designated path: marginalized students—slow learners, behaviour problems, learning disabled; those whom other teachers wrote off, just couldn’t manage, or simply didn’t want. As these kinds of students ended up in my classroom, I was driven to ask, what KEY unlocks learning for this kind of child?
In my quest for answers, I stumbled upon Ronald D. Davis’ book, The Gift of Dyslexia, and signed up for training to become a certified and licensed Davis Dyslexia Correction Facilitator. Landmark Learning Solutions was created to focus my experience and training on providing individualized, specialist solutions to learning ‘disabilities’ of children and adults.