Lived Realities of Learning Education & Teaching: asking hard questions

smiling woman sits in front of bookcase

Author: Chelle Oldham

Chelle has been an educator in schools, colleges and universities since 2005 with expertise and published work across Early Childhood, Primary, Secondary, FE and HE. Experienced teacher educator who has achieved all teaching certificates covering 3-11yrs, 11-18yrs and 14-19yrs enabling Chelle to gain experience of all educational age-groups. Chelle started her career with the goal to gain experience and certification of all phases and then aimed to cement her understanding in Doctoral work looking at alternative education and untraditional learners (EdD: Transference of Education Capital from Mature Mothers in Higher Education to their Young Children  /  PhD: Home Education Voices – Narratives of Educational Choices & Spaces).


What is learning?

Learning is my escape. An escape for many reasons as a child growing and navigating through the seventies and eighties. Living through the dark days of coal mining strikes, when the man living in my home worked at a power station; through the lighter days of fun and freedom as we were allowed to leave the home at 8am if we watched the streetlights (and hoped we were within a mile of the house because if not we couldn’t run fast enough to make curfew).

This is where I learned the power of the collective. But this was also where I learned about racial attitudes and discrimination. My becoming as I recognised the class structures and the differences within an unequal society.

I learned how much I disagreed with the adults in my home.

Learning is my escape. An escape for many reasons as a youth. A youth where I was othered for my quirky nerdiness and underdeveloped social skills. Learning was my escape through the pain of high school, through the freedom of home education and through the awe of private schooling. Through the eye-opening FE experience where I accidentally made a teacher run from my class. He ran after asking us to write our two greatest fears and put them into a hat; I didn’t know that by writing ‘my father and failure’ it would elicit such an emotional response; he couldn’t carry on.

This is where I first learned the power a student can have within a classroom. I learned a lesson in social skills. I learned that the fears I had lived with my entire 16 years made me different somehow.

a group of students - the author stands in the centre

What is education?

Education is my capital. My lifeblood. A wise woman once told me that education is the only thing I get to take with me after this life has ended. It is the one part of us that no one can take from us.

This is the space where my education comes alive.

Education is achievement and accomplishment, measured by their own hand. Measured by their own goals. My classroom is everywhere, everything and everyone. Walls, no walls; screens, no screens; pens, no pens.

This is where I create education.

Teaching is subjective and Reflections can be distorted

Teaching is my happy place. I tumbled through my first HEI experience when I had no clue what a first or a third meant and I trusted if it was important someone would tell me. Then I had the realisation that I wasn’t going to go to my graduation. It was simply a stepping-stone in my world. But, for some of my fellow students they had worked so much harder to get to that same stage.

This is also where I first learned that whilst graduation meant very little to me, there were so many of my peers for whom learning didn’t come so easily. Learning was a chore, a battle, a war they had often been losing.

I’ve learned to be happy in the place I carve for myself and know that this is usually so very different from others. I have been lucky enough to have an exceptional mentor. My mentor explained one day that everyone has their own struggle to reach their own defined successes; that struggle is their reality. If an individual feels that juggling being single and having a full-time job, is trying and hard work; that is their reality. If another person juggles a partner and children with a similar full-time job, and feels they are pushed to their limits; that is their reality. What if someone else has a partner, children, a full-time job and a full-time MA; it is still their own reality. Having never experienced the other person’s world, how can we ever understand and support each other effectively? Is it even possible?

Yet we try! As educators we have learning, teaching and education in our blood. What I have learned is that no one sets out to do a bad job, no one starts with the intention of making a mistake and most people push through because they want to contribute to the experiences of their students; be them 5yrs or 55yrs.

Here’s the thing, I do know that when we set out to find the very best of our creativity to pour into our courses, we do it with those student’s experiences in the forefront of our thoughts. When we research the very best literature to share with our students and when we do our own research, we have those students in the forefront of our thoughts. When we create content online, videos, programmes and audio, we do it with those students at the very top of our priority list. As educators we aim to be the best, teach the best, share the best and design, the very best. We don’t aim for halfway up the mountain; we aim for the top. Our intentions aren’t good, they’re great!

But here’s the other (and last) thing, what happens if learning, education and teaching are their escape?

What do we do when we meet individuals traumatised by their prior learning?

What happens if they cannot read the amazing materials we spend months writing?

What happens if they cannot hear the beautifully narrated video content, don’t have an internet connection to play the brightly illustrated social media memes and cartoons?

What happens if high school literally gave them PTSD around anything involving the written word or assessments?

What happens if they cannot get into a building, classroom or lecture hall?

What happens if they cannot access that online classroom?

What happens if they cannot see, or hear or feel?

What happens if they cannot retain information longer than the 1-hour lecture and the assessment is 10 weeks away?

What happens if the message you give is not the message they hear?

What happens if they need background music in order to focus?

What happens if they need silence to focus?

What happens if they have never seen or touched or learned about computers or software?

What happens if they cannot enter a room where more than 1 person is in there?

What happens if they use a language that last month surrounded them but this month they can only hear at home?

I am othered. I am forgotten. I am terrified.

I am your student.

Published by Chelle Oldham

Woman; Mother; Wife; Ex; Researcher; Academic; Lecturer; Teacher; School Teacher; University Teacher; Manager; Planner; Swimmer; Artist; Author; Poet; Reader; Editor; Santa; Nurse; Counselor; Disabled; Single; Cook; Cleaner; Supervisor; Administrator;

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