Life-long Learners

[Previous Rural Farmgirl, April 2009 – May 2010]
I would like to say that I was a good student and that I excelled in school. But, truth be told, I was not. To this day I am still not one who would thrive in a brick and mortar classroom.
On a recent trip to my hometown, it seemed that every street in the little community held a memory for me—some of the memories good and others not so good. As I sat outside the old school house, I was a little surprised that I wasn’t engulfed in memories. Instead, the only thing that came to mind was a quote that I love by Mark Twain: “I never let my schooling interfere with my education.”

”Not that there weren’t good teachers and great people there (there were, and I have fond memories of many of them), it is just that the classroom and conforming and rules and structure bored me. As an adult, the world really opened up to me when I began reading writers like Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters and Emily Dickinson.
As a parent, I am very aware of the different learning styles, more so than I was as a child. I wish that “someone/anyone” would have told me that I wasn’t dumb—I just didn’t respond to the methods that were being used. I am sure that I drive my children’s teacher (s) nuts, as I am not opposed to pulling my kids out of the brick and mortar building to try less conventional methods of learning when and if needed. I feel that as a parent it is my job to make my kids “lifelong learners,” and I take that job very seriously.
I am a mom of four boys, and all of them learn very differently. My oldest is like his dad—very auditory. He can hear something once and it sticks. My second-born is more like me—we just need time with it. We need to “sit with it” and “wear it” and find a practical use for it and see it before we have it “jell.” My third is tactile—he needs to touch it and work with it. And my fourth is very kinesthetic, meaning he needs to move to process the info.
I have discovered that even within the categories of visual learner, auditory learner, tactile learner and kinesthetic learner there are degrees and variations. People just take in and process information differently and that is okay. So as a parent I work very hard to make sure that they have the tools to take in the info in whatever ways they need for their learning styles. This hasn’t always been appreciated by those who felt they knew better.
Even as a young child, I knew that I had a love of writing. It was my constant. The actual act of writing calmed me, and getting the things out was therapeutic for sure. But it went deeper than that. I had a deep need to communicate by way of writing. I admired the written word, although my undiagnosed dyslexia left me feeling frustrated by it. I was always drawn to books but struggled with reading them until a college professor took the time to work with me and give me some tools that made the words come alive for me.
I have never been any good with spelling either. I tried to learn all the “rules” for spelling, things like “i before e, except after c” and so on. Sometimes they work…until you find an exception to the rule. My core belief is that writers aren’t made, they are born. I know a lot of great spellers who are amazing in sentence structure, grammar and spelling but would drop to their knees if they had to actually come up with a 1,000-word story, my oldest son being one of them. He is the brightest person I know—he continually pulls straight As in engineering, he’s a math whiz, and he makes statistics class look like finger painting. But make him write a story and he melts into a puddle.
I have learned that there are no such things as dumb kids, just late bloomers. Some don’t grab onto the info until it is presented in a way that they can take it in, process it, and make it their own.
One of my greatest accomplishments is that I never let my schooling interfere with my education. Somehow I “got” that there was more to me than the grades I received and the struggles in learning that I faced early on. Certainly there was more to me than the labels that some wanted to attach to me. Something in me knew that there was a writer dying to get out.
I have always dreaded the fall school bell. Maybe it is a residual reaction from my own youth, or maybe it has to do with the struggles I watch my own kids face (whether they are a 4.0 or a 3.0). Maybe it is the school schedule that seems to consume our home life, or that we have a “season of learning” instead of an environment of learning. I am not really sure. But this year, the two children who are still at home have requested to attend public school, and my husband and I have agreed that it is what they need at this moment. So, here we go.
I have come to understand that I will be the best advocate for my kids no matter where their primary learning comes from. With that in mind, I set up once again to ensure that my guys know that learning is a lifelong venture. I will be forever grateful that I discovered this truth early on. Learning doesn’t happen in a season. If we stay open to it, we become lifelong learners, improving ourselves over time.
The greatest gift I was ever given was someone taking the time to help me unleash the learner in me, then giving me the tools I needed to be a lifelong learner.

  1. Reba says:

    You have spoken a true word. I believe that a true teacher knows when someone is "learning" from them. The student will "draw" it out of them. Also, there are those students that have the desire to learn taken from them by methods that are not productive, like what I experienced when young. I usually did not like when it was time to go back to school in the Fall, either as a child or when my daughter was young. It seemed that we "learned" so much during the summer, maybe because our classroom was the outdoors through gardening and gathering the harvest, reading books that interested me, swimming, and creative play with the neighbors which taught us how to get along with others. It was such a relaxed time which, for me, was the perfect atmosphere for learning.

  2. Sandy says:

    I hated school growing up, especialy high school. I had an English teacher who made us diagram sentences and if you made one tiny mistake she would throw chalk, erasers, or scream at us. It wasn’t until I got to college and got to pick the classes I was interested in, did I really enjoy school. I love to learn and I am constantly reading. I have seen my own children struggle with school. My oldest is a born student, she loves school in every form and is just finishing her PHD. Not the same for my others. Two are dslexic and the other two were just plain bored. Three have now graduated from college but it was not easy. They all love learning but probably more life skill learning than book learning. I really agreed with your comments, I wish more teachers and educaters would see the need for diversity in the classroom.

  3. Suzy says:

    Those very things were what we tried to impart as we homeschooled our last two children….we helped nurture in them a desire to learn, taught them what tools were available to assist in that learning, and turned them loose!

    Our youngest, our only son, is now in the electrical business with his dad. He is constantly still learning although he graduated homeschooling more than ten years ago!

    When his dad suffered two heart attacks two Februarys ago, he was able to step up and run the business with the "tools" he had been equipped with mentally….

    I was so much like you in public schools….I had a deep deep deep love for reading and read constantly but I had trouble in high school…one teacher constantly graded my papers with "F’s" saying there’s no way a high school student could write them….but I KNEW she was wrong because I had a good little business going on the side doing everybody else’s homework for them and they all made "A’s" and "B’s"….I know now that was wrong but it was sure funny at the time!!!!

    That particular teacher made my life SO MISREABLE in school that when, years later, my mama called me to tell me that the teacher had choked on a bone in a local restaurant and DIED, I could feel no sympathy, only relief…

    I would have surely gotten into major trouble without the guidance of Mrs. Pesnell, a science and biology teacher…she kept a stack of inspirational magazines on her desk..and she constantly told me that I could write as well as any of the writers in those periodicals! One of the articles I later wrote and SOLD was about that dear lady and how her gift of Air Mail Stationery (so that me, a little hippie, could write to the love of my life stationed in Vietnam) was such a silent but encouraging gift to me…along with all her other encouragements…

    She’s been dead several years but I truly mourned HER…She REALIZED and ACTED ON the fact that all children don’t learn the same ways…

    Thank you so much for your thoughts!

  4. Bambi says:

    Oh, if I only knew then what I know now!! I did not sleep well at night when I was a child, therefore did not do well in school. Of course, back in the 60’s, my parents did not realize this was going on. My mother would only hear from my teachers that I was not applying myself! Plus, I was a hands on learner. Not until I had a younger child that was exactly like me, with sleeping and learning, did I realize that, hey, I was smart after all! I was just not getting enough sleep at night to handle the day. I have 3 sons who all learn differently. They are all very talented and do well with their lives. I only wish more schools would recognize there are so many different ways to learn. Not everyone is the same. God Bless!

  5. Marti Johnson says:

    This should be required reading for all teachers, both those who are just entering the system and those who’ve been there a while! While I was in school, I could turn in homework, extra assignments & nail an A every time, but in spite of the fact that I was considered a "gifted student", and had an above-average IQ, put a test in front of me & I’d collapse.

    My two daughters, both of whom have IQs higher than me, are very different. One of them excels in math, has a very up-front personality, and charges through life like a major tornado (which is why her nickname is chaos). School for her was a breeze, being moved ahead in classes by one year & still graduating from high school a year early. At age 40, she holds down a full-time job at the post office, plus is a manager in a direct sales business, and mother of two teen-age sons. The other daughter is more like her mother … math classes are a constant horror, she has to slowly take things in and work them over in her mind before they take hold, and any assignment is a breeze as long as she can do it her way. She worries herself half to death before finals, and figures by the time she’s finished with college, she’ll be drawing Social Security. In spite of that, she finished up her undergraduate work this past spring while holding down a full time job, and is enrolled at the university to earn her BA in Anthropology. If I’d had the kind of strength & encouragement we gave them, I’d have my BA by now. How I wish my teachers had seen this blog!

    Thanks for that. I know that my picking up a book called "They way they learn" when my kids were little, changed the course of my life and theirs. The Author is Cynthia Tobias and she also wrote one called "every child can succeed". To bad they arent required reading.

  6. Gary says:

    Well spoken/written Rene’…
    You are more than a Blogger… you are a writer… there is a difference, and it shows. You take the time to connect with your readers, and when I post a comment to your writings, I don’t have that "posting" feeling… I feel like I am engaged in a dialogue, whether you respond or not, as I see responses sprinkled here and there. Whatever it was you were supposed to "get" in the old brick school… well you "got" it and a whole lot more.
    Mark Twain spoke volumes in that short sentence ‘eh…
    Education is all about a sense of wonder… discovery… and Adventure…! Sadly today, everyone is obcessed with "performance"… oh… not much adventure there.
    Your kids are Blessed Rene’, because… well, they’re *Your* kids, and you "got it" right.
    GodSpeed to Y’all…!
    in Tampa


    Thank you for the honor of calling me a writer. My hearts calling for sure, second of course to being a mom.

  7. Reba says:

    Hello again Rene, Books by John Holt are excellent insight in teaching. He wrote books about the fact that "learning is as natural as breathing" and how we can nurture and encourage natural abilities in our children. I think these should be "required" reading for college students looking for a teaching degree. He was a "reformer" so he was controversial for the education system. I keep a couple of his books "How Children Learn" and "How Children Fail" as references that I reread from time to time. Reba

  8. Wow Rene,
    This is exactly why I homeschool my children. I’ve graduated two, have a highschool senior this year and three more to go. My graduated two are tradesmen, respected in their respective fields and in the community. They learned their trades through apprenticeships. Now my oldest has decided that a college degree might be a good idea and is enrolled as a freshman this term at the local community college.
    I agree with Gary in enjoying your writings…not just a blog, and with Reba that anyone interested in education should read John Holt.

  9. Barb says:

    I too "went home",knowing that the "old school" had been torn down, except for the gym, where we had walked across the stage to graduate. This left-over has become the town,s Fine Arts Center, and looks the same as it did 44 years ago (and it was old then!) The "old brick building" was new when I was a third grader, and still stands–holding only offices and some disability services now. Nostalgia rained! A total love/hate relationship. Some houses still stood–good memories/not so good memories–it seems we all have those learking in our past. I took a job, teaching in the district for year, before retiring: new building, new people, new memories–a truely awesome experience, and not one that I would ever give up!

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