The Invisible Kid
Is it possible that one of the world’s most sophisticated education systems is failing some students without even knowing it? Are Australian teachers not engaging students who sit before them day after day? Estimates suggest that 30% of adults in our society are ‘functionally illiterate,’ indicating some students are not able to read and write.
Falling Through The Cracks
It is simplistic to blame teachers, parents or environment in isolation; however, a significant body of evidence suggest that children from less privileged neighbourhoods lack the verbal skills of their wealthier peers. Hillary Clinton "word gap" was the drive for better public education with the statement that poor kids know, hear and learn 30 million less words by the time they begin primary school.
But I was not a poor kid. Not wealthy; but our childhood lives were packed with sport, family outings and during my teens competitive football. I led teams to grand final victories and to New Zealand as it’s captain. I swam, surfed, and lacked for nothing; but no one around me knew I was a walking disaster, unable to read or write.
I had fallen through the cracks; missed by parents, elders and teachers.
I was Dumb Ryan.
Understanding Information Differently
My learning improves when I am engaged kinaesthetically. My K – 2 teachers were not aware that visual, aural, verbal and logical lessons were wasted on me. It wasn’t until my year 3 teacher, Sue O’Keefe discovered this and helped me to unlock another way of understanding information. My year 3 at school was my best and most enjoyable of 13 years of education.
With a New Year came a different teacher and it was back to dumb Ryan.
I don’t consider myself stupid or dumb in any way, but my education, the schooling system made me feel it. During my school years I totally believed it.
I was the quiet kid in my classes. My school teachers and class mates knew I was that kid; the one who never did anything wrong. The one that never answered any questions. The invisible kid.
Different Strategies Produce Different Results
I wasn’t actually invisible, but the education system is set up in such a way that teachers have to jam so much into the available time. This leads to a lot of children getting left behind simply because they learn through a different input channel.
My primary school marks lead me to start my high school time in 7N. The ‘Special Class;’ the class with half the number of students of the other classes. It was designed to be a catch-up period, for all the things we didn’t know academically, but should have. Our workload was less and we learned more slowly than the rest of year 7.
Now it was official, I’m Dumb, not smart enough to learn what normal kids learn.
During the next 6 years I was a failure, yet good at sport. My parents were at their wits end as to what sport to throw me into next. I began learning again only when I entered the work force. As a primary school sports coach. Under the guidance of a very special teacher Jillian Parnaby McLean I was given things to do. I was asked to demonstrate physical skills, many of which I had not learned or taught before. I could start learning through my body doing.
My learning curve was so steep I found the ability to instruct, to talk in front of others and help children gain enjoyment from their gymnastics and sports lessons. I followed my teacher, unable to read the teaching points on the lesson plan. I began to understand pictorial flow charts and what teaching points each skill needed for children’s safety. I began from memory, learned by doing and grew by being challenged and mentored.
My teaching became my life. I stopped playing competitive sport to teach juniors. I went from the year 11 student totally terrified and unable to read a speech in front of my classmates to announcing the format, events, rules and special announcements for primary school athletics carnivals with 450 students, teachers and parents in attendance.
I was 19 years old.
Ensuring No Child Falls Through The Cracks
The purpose of education is to learn how to find answers. Functional illiteracy has for many years stood in the way of accessing all the available channels and methods of learning and growing.
Reading has never been an option for me, it simply took too long to figure out what the group of letters in front of me said and what the words meant when they were put in a particular order to form a sentence. By the time I get a sentence together; I have forgotten what the context was; leaving me utterly lost with no idea what the story in front of me is about.
I am now 30, with 3 young children. I have learned a lot from them, their similarities and their differences. I have been forced to begin reading children’s books. It has done me the world of good. Last week I did something that has been impossible prior to this time.
I bought a book.
Not just any book, but one by entrepreneurial author Gary V. I have watched Gary’s videos, know his story and journey to the social authority he is today. I love business and connecting with my clients. Gary’s inspirational text seemed like a really good place to start.
I am learning so much from “Crushing It”
More importantly, as I thank Gary for the content; I am deeply grateful that the hard work is paying off. I can read, not the Bible or The Encyclopaedia Britannica; but a powerful life-changing book. My business and life will be changed by the written word. I no longer have to ask someone to read it for me, or watch video grabs that only tell part of the story.
Learning never stops. I will be a different person as I spend less time eating lunch in the staffroom in teaching breaks, and more time as a book snail (my reading is still very slow, so I cannot yet hope to be a true book worm.)
Ryan Williamson is a gymnastics and movement expert.