Once upon a time, I had a strong disinterest in reading. A physical inability to read put me behind my classmates and my word-stumbling led me to fear books which of course made it worse. Teachers spared me the discomfort of reading aloud because they believed articulate children could read.
I successfully maintained this illusion until the age of nine when my school summoned each student for a competency reading test. My reading-anxiety was so great I vividly remember the small room and the kind assessor who shuffled large sheets of paper charted with words. I got stuck on ‘canary’ and said ‘can-uh-ree’ only to realise later what I should have said. Undoubtedly one of many mistakes I made that day.
The education system got it right. Sure, it would have been great if they’d picked up this problem earlier, but what if my situation had carried on? It didn’t. My parents were notified and a reading plan was implemented and while I’m still not the reader I should be, it’s allowed me to get by. I’m really thankful for that.
Your education is one of those things you’re only able to view in hindsight. You’re not sitting in your Grade 5 class hoping to learn about nouns or deciding to tackle long division. Years can transpire before ‘Really? You don’t know?’ escapes from the mouth of a teacher, parent or sibling and only then you begin to consider the other ways you could have been schooled. Only then you wonder what else your education lacked.
Most children, myself included received a one-size-fits-all education. For me it began with an extra school year, called Prep. I’m really glad I had that extra year, but they didn’t give it to me because I needed it, they gave it to me because I was born in September. Some children didn’t need it and got it anyway, some missed out when they would have benefitted. And so it begins, our learning governed by illogical rules and an inflexible system. We were all slowly being recut to fit the same lock.
Up until I was thirteen, I was free-writing. Teachers added words to my spelling list, inconsistently punctuated sentences and corrected neatness over structure or content. I waltzed through my early school years ignorant of nouns and wouldn’t have known a verb if I’d covered it in sugar and ate it for breakfast. The extent of my early English studies stopped at a list of ‘doing words’. This appeared to be enough. My grades were good.
‘Good’ turned out to be a relative term. At fourteen, my new teacher decided I wasn’t good for my age and my writing had to grow up. I suddenly teetered on the edge of failure. With poor grammatical knowledge, I could only make sense of a short list of ‘don’ts’. Don’t begin a sentence with ‘and’, ‘but’ or ‘because’. Only fairytales begin with ‘Once upon a time’ and don’t explain away your story with a dream.
I was devastated. I felt as though all my previous teachers had lied to me and I resented the sudden implication I wrote badly through laziness – I loved writing. Why wasn’t I told earlier? Was I mollycoddled? Didn’t they think I could handle it?
Being a studious failure-fearing creature, I over-compensated. I phrased, paraphrased, deleted and inserted until I wasted hours over sentences. It probably set the platform for my tendency to over-edit and ramped up the volume on my inner voice of doubt. Writing became excruciating. Where had the enjoyment gone? Was it better when I wrote badly without boundaries?
There’s an enormous onus placed upon teachers. Not only to cover the curriculum but to identify and nurture each student’s strengths and interests. To know when to filter new information without harming growth. To know how to inspire and encourage. Generally, teachers do an amazing job often under difficult circumstances, and I needed to hear the truth about my writing, but this technique failed. He used criticism without optimism and any kindness remained patronising. I just felt stupid.
Writing and I grew apart. By the time I waved university goodbye, I sidelined creative writing for other life-stuff and I stopped having that 3am idea.
But writing wasn’t lost, its importance remained in my subconscious. It survived clean-outs and computer upgrades and it waited. I remembered how much I liked writing. With older eyes, it looked different now – I could make choices, I could bend rules. I could move boundaries.
I saw a glimmer.
It turns out a story can end with a dream.