The Legitimacy of Literacy

Ever since starting this blog on GLOW, I have been fortunate to have a few people tell me that they enjoy the content I post and the way I write. It hasn’t always been this way. If anything, my writing skills came very late into my academic journey. Truth is, up until the age of fifteen, my grammar has to be considered quite poor.

So why was it so bad and what brought on the change of fortune? Especially as a self confessed “grammarista“. well with the benefit of hindsight, I believe it originates from moving primary so often during my early years in education. Maths always came naturally to me, writing never did. I struggled with punctuation. As a child I once asked an adult how to properly use full stops; I was met with an answer of, “about every two lines.” I started putting full stops every two lines regardless of flow… You already know how my teacher took that.

In addition to the struggles in my childhood, I also under-performed at English in high school. Looking back now, I’m quite embarrassed by my lack of assimilation but back then I didn’t really care. I would confuse British English with American English by spelling words without the wonderful vowel of ‘u’ or being a bit grungy by replacing a nice consonant in ‘s’ with an ugly ‘z’. Comma splicing was very common. VERY common. ‘Their, there and they’re’ was as confusing as Pygathoras’ theorem. Basically – I wasn’t very good. But come the end of 4th year, with the tremendous help of one of my biggest academic influences in my English teacher, I managed to scrap a 3 in my Standard Grades. That should have been enough to allow me entry into Intermediate 2 for 5th year, right? Wrong.

Despite receiving an adequate result to study Int 2 English, the head for the department of English prevented me from being allowed to do so. A stray mark during one of the papers — later amended via an appeal — “disqualified” me from progressing. I was subsequently place into Intermediate 1. A relegation that both hurt and humiliated me. What followed is something that I still regret to this day: I did not entertain putting any effort into doing well in the subject during the course of the next academic year. I believed this benefit me as a means to fight back against the machine that oppressed my wishes. In hindsight, I genuinely do regret this action as I now realise that the only party that was greatly affected was myself. Still, my English teacher from the year prior stood in my corner and fought my case fairly hard, a sentiment that was not lost on myself all these years later.

For my troubles, I was rewarded a C after my 5th year exams. A C in Int 1 English. Not my finest moment. A grade that only twisted the knife in my side. With a lot of pent-up frustration, I totally ditched English for 6th year. Years later, I would only put English at a level 3 standard grade on my CV when applying for jobs. The intermediate 1 result still embarrassed me. My relationship with English was far from over. Naturally. I still required to read, write and communicate on a daily basis. My newly found maturity upon leaving school got me to realise the importance of what I had previously disregarded. My skills developed as I began to avidly read and my writing skills benefited greatly as I slowly became a grammarista. An incorrect use of “you’re” would get me nearly as annoyed as someone intentionally littering.  Unfortunately, as my level of literacy got to a decently high standard, I had nothing to reflect this growth other than a severely out-of-date grade from high school. This glitch was frustrating as it did not actively portray the hard work that I had since put in to get to where I was at. That all changed upon entering the SWAP course at college that I had previously mentioned in my first blog post. Here I managed to secure a B in Higher English, being a total of one percent away from an A grade. A little detail that will frustrate me to my deathbed.

Although not getting an ‘A’ frustrated me, I can now take satisfaction of overseeing the growth in my academic skills outside of school. Although the classroom is a great thing, not every student will truly “find themselves”  in there. Sometimes you have to realise what you don’t have, to find what you truly do possess. My bad result from school actually let me find more about myself upon leaving that I might have found had I remained in school.

So what will I take forward from this? Firstly, I like to think that I now have an appreciation that not everything will fall into place at the first, second or even third instance. Sometimes  things just need to click. Secondly, and arguably more importantly, it’s the age old cliché; Rome wasn’t built in a day. However, they were laying bricks every hour. Patience. Patience is vital in every walk of life. Friends now regard me as someone with a good grasp of the English language, regularly being asked to proofread others’ work. I wouldn’t have got here without patience.

Old ways won’t open new doors

Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending an introductory session on autism through Elaine Smith from Autism Scotland.

This session was organised by the Education Society and proved an extremely valuable experience to learn about a topic that, although I have heard small pockets of information, I had little knowledge of. This wasn’t through intended ignorance; rather autism was something that was never present through my time at school. It was only upon leaving that I heard it referred through conversation and the greater media, therefore I was eager to attend the hour-long seminar to further expand my knowledge on the condition.

My initial thoughts were that I was impressed by the turnout. There was easily over one hundred people in attendance, both staff and student. Over the course of the hour, Elaine presented a lot of intriguing pockets of information that resulted in me taking a page and half worth of notes. Not only did she provide knowledge on the different varieties of what someone with autism deals with, but also alternative news such as the ratio between genders, the causes and strategies to utilise to make teaching students with autism as comfortable as possible.

All in all, I simply can’t detail all of the information I left the lecture theatre with due to the extensive level of detail mentioned – but I can state that I feel the session was invaluable for my understanding moving forward, both in my future career as a primary school teacher and as a member of society. It is important that we embrace those who suffer from autism rather than shy away from it; something we might have done in the past. Together as a society, we are stronger.

I think; therefore I am

Walking out of Tuesday’s ‘Values’ module, I felt an ironic sense of negativity that I joked about to my peers. After a two hour lecture on biological discrimination, I felt bad as an atheist, straight Caucasian male. Once I had left the company of human communication, I delved a little into my own thoughts as I processed my own interpretation on the matter. One of the largest morals that I hold in life is the emphasis of equal opportunity. I don’t believe that equality is the answer, as I believe that presents problems as seen in the image below. Instead, equal opportunity is the basis to give people of all backgrounds the platform to live their life.

 

Interaction Institute for Social Change | Artist: Angus Maguire

As a child, I grew up in a street within Dundee that would be referred to as a cul-de-sac in French. Here, I had a group of friends from the street and the lane connecting us to another similar set-up. We were just like any group of young boys from any part of the world. It took me years to realise that one of us was black. That boy would be Joshua. Joshua’s parents originally came from Nigeria and their professions were that of dentists. Not in one instance did I pick up on Joshua’s complexion because I never had reason to. We were young boys who enjoyed playing with each other. It was never a case of a group of white children playing with that one black child. Not once did I question Josh’s skin colour. The only difference I noticed from his household — a home that I regularly entered, be it for dinner or to play in his room, with only the warmest of welcomes — was the distinct, yet odd, smell of the accommodation due to the wooden African ornaments on display.

It was only several years later whilst in Primary 6 that I became aware of what the term ‘racism’ actual meant and represented. Up until that moment, my young brain could not comprehend why a person would differentiate their opinion on someone due to their complexion, as if it wasn’t a biological conclusion. To this day, I still cannot comprehend why people get so flustered about such aspects of life. As a blue eyed adult, not once has someone treated me differently due to the colour of my eyes; so why should an individual be mistreated due to the pigmentation of the skin they find themselves in.

I’m proud to state that I have never once bared witness to racial abuse in my lifetime in Scotland. That makes me proud as a man of this country. Naturally my experiences online is different due to the anonymity of users online, however I often regard such forums like Twitter and YouTube to house a cesspit of the ignorant uneducated. For myself? I just continue to treat those with darker skin, and of any race, with the respect they deserve. The respect I expect to receive. The respect that I held for a black athlete in Thierry Henry as a youth. My idol. A player that no one focused on about what colour he was or where he originated from. They just enjoyed him for what he was: a world class footballer, regardless of what team they supported.

 

Another factor that got me thinking was the topic of sexism. Unfortunately, with regret, I have to hold my hands up and admit that as a youth I got stuck into the mindset that boys did everything superior to girls. It’s hard not to at that stage of your development. Up until a few years ago, I would tell you that women’s football was rubbish and that men are better prepped for life than their female counterparts. I’m glad to announce that with age comes maturity. As a big, big fan of combat sports, it had given me an appreciation for a term used within the confines of the community called the “pound-for-pound” rankings. Broken down, this just ranks a fighter’s value after being stripped of any unfair advantage that might derive from height, weight or gender. Why do we have to compare women’s football to men’s football? That is a very unfair and silly metric. They do not compete against each other, so why compare? If you have to compare, it’s little more than a fact that the women are besting their male equivalent after our recent successes of qualifying for the Women’s World Cup for the first ever time.

Now I know what you’re asking yourself: why am I just blurring the lines between superiority and sports? Well that correlates to academic success, too. Last year, I had the opportunity to watch a BBC documentary named ‘No More Boys and Girls[authors edit: I did not anticipate this being part of the upcoming module] that set out to test the waters of a young class when eliminating the importance of gender from the establishment. What they found was that whilst young girls were, on average, outperforming boys when it came to academic results, their confidence and self-esteem was in fact lower than the boys. This arose from the social belief that boys are stronger and more confident, whilst girls are timid and fragile. The documentary stated in spite of this, boys and girls are both equal in mental and physical ability until puberty. These shortcomings were attributed to the attitude of society where girls have to believe they are beneath boys in social standings; a perspective that continues in to adulthood and is instilled during infancy. Blue is a boy’s colour, pink is a girl’s colour. In reality, how can a colour, a natural saturation of nature, be a component of one’s gender? Instead, this ludicrous deceit is a human-made divide that separates both genders from birth.

 

Lastly, the final subject that I wanted to document is another instance in life that I have experienced firsthand from the perspective of the perpetrator: homophobia. As a young male growing up in Scotland, the biggest insult to my character was my masculinity, or lack thereof. Unfortunately, we associate homosexuality with a lack of manhood and therefore, many young boys hurl the insult of being gay as if it is such a negative crime against someone’s character. In the time since, I’ve had the pleasured to become acquainted with several people who identify as gay and have come to realise that their sexuality is nothing more than part of their DNA and thus does not alter what they are or aren’t capable of, both professionally and personally. One of my good friends is homosexual and that doesn’t change what he is to me. My friend. To deny or restrict his lifestyle as a result of who he truly is would be nothing short of severe discrimination.

 

In conclusion, Tuesday’s lesson was an incredibly important session that got me thinking of my own experiences towards the biological makeups that I am not. Just because someone is different to me, does not make them different to me. The story of people should be celebrated and shared, not restricted as a result. What makes us different, makes us similar. These sentences may appear to be clichés; but to me it is another instance of a university lecture where I find myself leaving with the promise of treating my future students, colleagues and fellow members of society with the same respect that I expect to receive myself.

A Lesson in Structural Inequalities

Yesterday I realised a some-what hard hitting truth that I thought I already knew. Personal bias is everywhere. It is as instinctual in humans as our sense of survival. Whether we like to admit it or not, favouritism is more present in our lives than we would like to admit. Be it a favourite friend in a group, your favourite footballer compared to a rival or what dog is your favourite at home.

So what lead to that realisation? During the morning Values lecture, we were informed that were to partake in group activities later in the afternoon without much of a clarification, When the time came, our particular group of roughly 24 were divided into smaller squads of 6 and were informed by the overseeing Paul Cowie that the contents of his soon-to-be issued brown envelopes contained materials that we were to be used with the purpose of designing resources for new students arriving in Dundee for the first time.

With the shadow of a time limit of roughly 10 minutes beckoning, my group quickly got to work with offering ideas when we opened our envelope to the sight of many academic assets, such as an abundance of paper, pens, rubber bands, claps and the such. It didn’t take long before we agreed that we saw fit that our creation would be a multi-paged booklet, stating the many different sides to the city of Dundee, in the shape of a cocktail menu. Paul informed us that we had to present our ideas — at this stage, just in principle — to the rest of the 3 groups. Throughout this time, he reacted positively and encouraging to our ideas, and laughed along to our quips and silly suggestions.

This positive reaction from the rest of our peers inspired the group to put ideas to paper as we took on the responsibilities of a page of the menu each whilst trying to complete it within the time-frame. Paul took the time to let us know that he believed our idea was the best of the bunch so far and happily informed that we could get a little time past the deadline. As before, when we presented our final product, we were met with positivity, smiles and subtle head nods.

So what was the correlation between the opening paragraph and the following ones, I hear you say? Well, as Paul was going to conclude the lesson, he asked the collective group about how they felt the lesson had went. As the group I was situated in agreed that we felt good about our involvement, I was shocked to have learned that the other groups were not as happy. To my further surprise, they stated that the contents of their envelope, the body language and the general replies from Paul to their table was nothing short of constant negativity and ignorance. It was here that it started to click that the last hour was essentially a social experiment used to evidence how the attitude and actions of a professional, in the form of Paul, could both hurt and dent a student’s moral towards both their product and general mindset. This was confirmed by the man himself as he stated that he deliberately altered his whole personnel when interacting with the different tables.

It was through this short, yet powerful, workshop that I realised the bottom line that will be present in my career moving forward. There will be a natural desire to want to show more loyalty and warmth to ‘straight A‘ students than those who are dragging along behind. That loyalty and warmth? That’s bias. It is not fair to show more commitment or encouragement to one pupil over that of another. School is not a place to show inequalities, it should be a place where children have equal opportunity to learn through education. That starts with the teachers. Whilst some of my colleagues might have left the workshop with the opinion that the hour we spent was a colossus waste of time, I left with the acknowledgement that no child should be treated different due to the surface appearance that they’re lagging behind. A child’s situation may be down to the background that they’re arriving to school from. Judging them is not fair. Judging them is not fair. That is biased.

The Foundation Of MY Future

From a very early age, I have always had the passion to learn new things about the world. In childhood, I was often found engrossed in a book or reading an article that allowed me to continue learning about the wonders of everything around me. I would often relay this back to those around me in the hope that this would spark an interest for them in the fields that I was educating myself about.

In my fourth year of school, I completed work experience as a Teaching Assistant. I was fortunate enough to be accepted for my choice and was chosen to participate in a week-long position at my former primary school, Claypotts Castle. I helped out in a Primary 2 classroom, during my time there, I quickly realised that my vision of a perfectly content class listening attentively was not a reality. Children often had problems of their own that they had to overcome in the classroom. Regardless of this reality check, I still thoroughly enjoyed my time and the involvement has always remained with me. Despite the revelation, I was not put off from the experience and it further fuelled my desire to pursue a career in teaching.

However, when the time came to leave school, I did so without much direction, despite gaining a number of qualifications. In employment, I experienced different fields of work without finding the same passion I had for the opportunity to teach. It took me several years, but one night I realised my desire to do more. I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life pulling pints or typing numbers into a computer on behalf of an organisation. I wanted to do something that I was too immature to realise upon leaving the security of school. I wanted to follow my dreams.

Despite my original concerns that being an adult of 24 years of age would go against me, I was firmly accepted into Dundee & Angus college through the SWAP programme course Access to Community, Education and Humanities. This course allowed me to rediscovered my enjoyment of subjects such as History and Geography and broadening my knowledge of new subjects in the form of Psychology and Sociology. In addition to this, I also enrolled on a Mindfulness course, introducing me to new abilities to deal with both stress and patience whilst realising a fuller extent of what my body and mind are capable of. During this time, I spent one day a week, for the entirety of the academic year, helping out at Craigowl Primary School. This stint in back in school gifted me the opportunity to recognise how important the curriculum of excellence is for development as well its significance in promoting that it is okay to fail and more perspective on children finding themselves in other ways and growing in character.

My intentions were always to use college as a stepping stone to allow me entry into university. From the day I attended an open day, I was determined to get into the University of Dundee. There was always a burning desire to be accepted, only increasing in intensity after the group interview I attended in February. The near-agonising three month period of waiting for my exam results over the course of the summer was rewarded with the realisation that I had obtained the results necessary for me to receive an unconditional offer from my desired destination.

 

And this is where the above leads into the present day. The above is a severely condensed form of my journey, but I intended to document the life experiences that I encountered before I attained the accomplishments that I have achieved thus far. Although I am more mature than the average student, my desire to fulfil my ambitions are stronger than ever. My time in the classroom so far has been both rewarding and challenging, but I know — now more than ever — that I have slotted into my destiny of being a teacher.