When I transitioned from teaching adolescents into the world of adult literacy, I saw a very different side to my job as a literacy educator.
Many of my students returned to the classroom as shaky readers and writers. Some of them only remembered their previous school literacy experiences making them feel like failures. Indigenous and immigrant students made up a large percentage of my students so language and cultural differences sometimes got in the way of their learning. They were often juggling family and job responsibilities, and dealing with economic, social, and health challenges.
I realized quickly that I needed to explore new ways of bringing literacy alive for my adult students. They needed encouragement to see themselves as readers and writers, to tell their stories, to embrace their strengths, and to believe in themselves. And I needed to learn from them what it was like to add being a student to their busy and sometimes chaotic lives, to walk with them as they learned, got frustrated, and threatened to give up. We celebrated their accomplishments together, and faced their setbacks by trying non-traditional learning strategies that helped them be successful.
The time I spent teaching adult literacy learners also sparked my interest in Indigenous culture and learning. At that time, about 25% of my students were First Nations, Metis, or Inuit. I learned a lot about their lives by reading their writing, talking to them, and trying to find materials that reflected their experiences. As a result, I discovered the work of many Indigenous authors and artists which I included in my lessons.