#Learning Difference Experience

This blog was originally published by IAACE.  Darrell Murray is our student and as we make July’s blogs about learning disabilities (we prefer to call them learning differences) we wanted to make sure you had an opportunity to read this again.  This time read to understand what he has had to go through to get where he is today.IMG_0052 (2)





Working on this blog has been a wonderful experience for my tutor Annette, and me.  We have met several times to discuss what makes our tutor/adult student team a success.  My name is Darrell and three years ago I could not read. Sure, I knew most of the letters of the alphabet but wasn’t as clear on what sounds the letters make.  I regarded people who could read as the “normals.” I bet you don’t even give your own literacy much thought; reading and writing is just second nature.  Those who cannot read nor write hide amongst us.  They have developed skills and tricks to get by as functioning adults in society.  That was me. But when my company was bought out I had no choice.  I had to learn to work with computers or lose my job.

That’s where Annette came into the picture.  She is a volunteer tutor at The Literacy Center.  We were introduced after I completed the required twelve hours in the computer lab.  We hit it off immediately.  We became a team!

But what made us a team?  That is why writing this article has been so beneficial.  We have closely examined our three years together and what has made us click.

After hours of discussion, our success boils down to  mutual respect and trust, passion, and laughter.

The number one key to a successful tutor/adult learner team is mutual respect and trust.  Of course, I have respect for Annette, but more importantly I know she has the upmost respect and trust in me.

Early on, the self-doubt of being too dumb to read was firmly planted in my psyche. Years of accumulated negative experiences (especially in school) made “fear” my best friend.  Through encouragement, patience, and understanding Annette slowly cleaned away the negative thoughts that were polluting my mind and spirit.

I began to believe in myself. A door was opened and beyond was the boundless vista of knowledge. In that positive atmosphere we became a team of equals.  We are peers. Period.

In an adult student it takes passion to want to change and it takes passion to be an effective tutor.  My passion to want to learn and Annette’s passion to teach me is obvious.  But this experience has had its up and downs.

My biggest obstacles were the times I wanted to quit.  Stresses in my life (work, health, family) were exhausting and that’s when my self-doubts were rekindled.  As my passions grew dimmer, Annette’s passions gently grew brighter. That’s when she listened.  She allowed me to express my fears without judging me. I gained self-respect after picking myself off the ground, dusting myself off, and getting back to work.

My biggest “up” moment was accepting the 2013 Dollar General Student of the Year award in Washington, D.C. at the United States Conference Adult Literacy hosted by ProLiteracy of America.  It was so uplifting to be bathed in the passion of hundreds of people and organizations that fight the battle for literacy.

So ups and downs are to be expected.  A successful team knows when to push and when to ease up.  Annette and I have that balance.  It is easy to have an ego in times of good but passion acts as a life preserver in times of bad.  And Annette is my cruise ship captain to literacy.

No team can be successful without laughter.  We laugh at each other and we laugh at ourselves.  For instance, I hid my tiny handwriting with my arm out of shame.  Annette made me write larger and it turns out my handwriting is neater than hers and Annette is starting to believe my Dyslexia is an airborne disease!  Humor is a large component in accepting who we are including our imperfections.

Laughter conquers fear. Annette and I first met in the private study rooms in our local libraries.  I perspired up a storm in those rooms because the fear of being judged, of failing, and of appearing stupid was thick in the air.

Laughter cut through that fear and left a happy atmosphere.  With fear out of the way, I became very open about my reading problems and began sharing my story with others.  Now we meet at Starbucks and the regulars know my story, a little boy who was scared to read out loud in class.  My goal is to read in front of them as a group.

My first novel I finished was Robert Louis Stevenson The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hydewhich is ironic.  I was Mr. Hyde hiding in the shadows of fear of shame of illiteracy. Today I identify with Dr. Jekyll basking in the shining light of knowledge.

Our team’s success has brought pens, paper and books into my home.  It has oiled my brain; my thinking has become more complex.  I believe in myself today.  Self-loathing has been replaced with self-love and acceptance.  But best of all… Annette and I have forged a lifetime friendship, and it all started because I had the courage to walk through the door of The Literacy Center and introduce myself, “Hi, my name is Darrell and I cannot read.”

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