05 Feb 2014

Back to School

For the past two years, I have had the extreme privilege of being an adult student. I have attempted to maintain a job, go to school, and help manage my household. I have to admit that I have not done any of these spectacularly well, but I have done them the best I can. My kids can now cook amazing four course meals (they even made ravioli without a pasta maker), my dogs can almost walk themselves and my hubby has learned to multitask (although he still argues that all research indicates multitasking is a waste of energy and focus, and who am I to argue with research?)

My program was cohort-based, which means for the past two years, I had the absolute pleasure of working alongside the same group of adults through all our classes. More than half the class self-identify as First Nation or Metis and we split evenly on genders.

We have supported, cheered, commiserated and most importantly challenged each other. We created our own community of safety and tolerance and proved Malcolm S. Forbes right, “Education's purpose is to replace an empty mind with an open one.” Perhaps this is the most important lesson of adult education: it is not about filling one’s mind with education, but opening it to a world of possibilities through education.

We cheered when many of us got our “dream jobs.” Our hearts ached when we shared the stories of poverty either in our own lives or those of our parents and grandparents. We discussed the legacies of residential schools on families, individuals and today’s youth. We talked openly about the challenges women endure; hoping that our daughters will not face the same risks of abuse, violence or career restrictions. We sobbed when friends shared the deep scars of racial profiling and racism. But most powerful for me were the moments of deep understanding that came from the power of the group. I could never have learned this from just a book or a professor – I learned this from my peers.

There are many things I’ve learned about “learning.” In fact, the irony is not lost on me. I taught middle years and elementary for years and then moved into adult education. In my 12 years of working at a community organization, I have facilitated courses on “how to work with adults” at least fifty times to volunteer literacy tutors. These guidelines truly become real when you ARE the student. The trick is to always be a student, because as Doris Lessing once said, at the heart “that is what learning is. You suddenly understand something you've understood all your life, but in a new way.”

Thank you April, Julie Ann, Guy, Cory, Matt, Ashley, Deb, Trina and Lori.

Sheryl Harrow-Yurach is the Executive Director of READ Saskatoon. Sheryl Harrow started tutoring

with READ Saskatoon in 1991 while a student in University. Returning from teaching middle years in New Zealand in 1999, she came back to the agency as an employee, moving into a leadership role in 2003.
Sheryl is a mother of two young girls, wife to bug-loving biologist, and a knitting fanatic. She hates all things chocolate – much to the joy of her colleagues.

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