Starting with a little flashback: As some of you may already know, I was born in Canada and when I was eight my parents moved with us to their homeland, Greece. Before we moved, we went to Greek school in Toronto every Saturday and every afternoon we had the (dreaded by us and what my mom called) To Elliniko Tetradio (The Greek Notebook), where we copied endless texts in Greek selected by mom. Our Greek was okay by the time we moved but not perfect. Personally speaking, my accent and pronunciation suffered a lot and I did not have such a wide vocabulary (probably because I did not really like Greek school in Canada and I refused to speak to my mom, who insisted and looking back on it now, I am so glad she did!). Anyway, my sisters and I were unfortunately tormented at our new school and bullied for our accents – we were also called the foreigners for quite a few years. While my sisters coped with it, my confidence totally sank and I thought I would never learn. But my teacher at that time and for the rest of primary school, Anthony Kontos (with whom I am still in contact today), believed in me and helped me so much, even staying extra with me and showing me how to pronounce words correctly, patiently and in his truly lovely way. My Greek improved quite a lot and I started to believe in myself again.
When I became a teacher, I vowed never to let any student’s confidence falter and try my best, just like Mr. Kontos had tried with me. So one year, a new student appeared at our school – let’s call him John. He was a bright-eyed boy (now he is almost eighteen!) and he loved playing soccer and with his Playmobil. His mother informed us that John was dyslexic and had many problems at school. Other kids made fun of him and challenged his intelligence and other horrible things. The worst thing was that his schoolteacher never bothered to help him and also had told him he was “not so bright”. I was around 22 at the time and had never worked with someone who had a learning difficulty before. I could not sleep in the beginning, thinking of how and if I could help him. I knew he could do great things – only if he could believe in himself.
So my sisters and I set our hands upon any specialised book we could find on dyslexia and even consulted a specialist who worked in the local university. But what I was thinking was that John himself had to open up and really see what he could do. So when he did not understand something or found it difficult to apply something he had learned, I asked him what he thought would help him most of all. He said something very important: Only when I see pictures, then I can remember things. So when we had a lesson, I never sat down, but wrote everything on the board and made little pictures and designs, underlined with colourful board markers (but not too many flashy things as they could overwhelm him). Simple and clear line designs. And a few months later…John could apply complex grammar such as the passive voice – and he could explain how it worked and even use it in his speaking. His schoolwork also started to improve as he believed more and more in himself. He even started dreaming of becoming an architect.
There are so many students out there, not only with learning difficulties, but from broken homes or with other issues that hinder them from believing in themselves. It is up to the educators to find these issues, help their students overcome them and raise their confidence levels. It is definitely worth all the sleepless nights and thinking and studying, because once you see them with faith – it is all the motivation you need to help the next kids you find in a negative mindframe.
Planting the seed of belief in one student can help and then another and another!