A Student-Teacher's Essay
How text looks for some people with dyslexia
This essay was written in answer to the following instruction: 'With reference to your subject specialism and your intention to teach, critically evaluate significant experiences that have shaped your learning.'
I was born in Leicester to two teachers, both of whom have worked in various secondary state schools. This inevitably played in a part in the formation of my ideals and ideas about education.
I have always enjoyed being in the company of people. Even before I could talk conversation was really important to me, so much so that my mother would read aloud whatever it was she was reading to make me think I was being talked to. There were always conversations and debates going on in our house, as my mother taught young mothers at home, we had lodgers from the local university and my parents' friends were all heavily involved in education.
One person in particular who played an important role in the development of my ideas about education was David Gribble, who is an international advocate for democratic education. I have known him since I was a very small child. He values all children's opinions and treats them like adults, always including them in conversations and valuing their opinions as highly as if not more highly than adults'. He felt that children had a good idea about what it was they wanted to do and they ought to do, so it was always extremely good fun being at his house! It helped to calm me but it gave me a sense of involvement.
It seems to me a really important part of being a teacher to both listen to and place importance on and value other people's ideas and thoughts. It helps people develop and challenge their ideas. It is about inclusion and at whatever age you are you ought to be spoken to and listened to like an adult – which seems an odd thing to say as it implies that we talk to children differently. Maybe we do, but being patronising, talking down to someone and putting on silly voices is not something I think we ought to do anyone, let alone children.
At home there was a lot of play and experimentation. I spent hours drawing, painting, building, creating complex games, talking, thinking, cooking, climbing, dancing, acting and observing. It was wonderful, so going to school was a great shock to me, as these things did not seem to be valued.
I was particularly good at jigsaws and was able to do quite intricate ones. When I was at school they tested us on how well we could put a jigsaw together - the more pieces involved the more advanced and clever you were thought to be. I was unaware of this so I did a couple of jigsaws, then got bored and wanted to do something different, so when the teacher said, 'Come on, Lucy, don't you want to do another?' I replied , 'No, I think three is quite sufficient, I want to do something else now.'
I had just put the first nail in my educational coffin. I was deemed to be stupid, as their jigsaw test said so. At quite an early age it became apparent that I was dyslexic, but at the time not much was known about it. Even now it still feels like a bit of mystery. Before they came to the conclusion that I was dyslexic, they ran numerous tests on me. It seemed as if it would have been much better if I had been deaf or had poor eye-sight rather than having a learning difficulty.
Because of my teachers' lack of experience and their inability to see anything positive in being dyslexic I was openly labelled as stupid, segregated from my friends in the classroom and placed on a table for 'problem' children. This was made up of two girls who were deaf, a boy with ADHD and a number of children for whom English was their second language. This meant that I often had to take the lead with the children on my table, re-explain what we had to do in class and help them when they were struggling. On occasions when it was assembly time I was taken with the 'problem' children into the basement of the school to learn skills. Once we were taken downstairs to make doughnuts. This seems like a much better option than assembly. However I was annoyed that I couldn't be with my friends, and didn't really understand this, so I asked why I was there. It was explained to me that this was because not all of us were clever enough to have jobs like doctors or teachers, and that we needed to learn skills that would help us become bakers, for example. It felt as though I was being written off at a very early age by the education system. They didn't even let us put the jam in the doughnuts, which frankly seemed to me the best bit of making them.
From the age of four I went to ballet classes, which I adored, up until the age of twelve, when I got found out. I loved the discipline, the feeling that movement gives you, a sense of freedom, but also power and equality. I felt I was on an equal level with everyone else. It made me feel great.
By the time I was twelve I was rather fed up with having to wear my hair in a bun, as I had a curly unmanageable bob which it was always a fight to get up. I was not that keen on the competitive attitude that the other girls had, and wearing leotards and tights started to feel a bit uncomfortable as I was a tomboy. This was made worse by the fact I was more often than not covered in bruises and cuts from having been climbing up trees and mucking about. Of course the other girls didn't have this problem, so they turned their noses up at me. The end of my ballet career came when, a day before my exam, it became clear that I had no handle on the French names for each dance we had to perform and that I had to wait until the music started or position myself so that I could see how the other girls were starting so I knew what dance we were doing. Because of this I was taken into the cold kitchen of the village hall in my leotard and shouted at by the dance teacher's assistant, until it was assumed that I had learnt the names. It was a bit like some people's attitude to people who don't understand English - the angrier you get and the louder you shout the more likely the non-English-speaking people are to understand.
It was the final straw. I auditioned for a youth contemporary dance company, became the youngest member and didn't leave until I was 19. It was a breath of fresh air. You could wear what you wanted. (I have never known a uniform make you work better, or even hide poverty.) The movement was not filled with rules, there was collaboration between dancers and choreographer, the lines of whose work was whose were blurred, and success was shared. The positive was found in everyone's movement and that was built on and utilised by the company. As I was one of the smallest and had a strong ballet background I was always the one used in lifts and thrown about the stage and I got to work with people much older and more experienced than myself. We had international choreographers come and work with us and we performed at grand venues such as Snape Maltings, the Royal Festival Hall and the Laban Centre. It was so empowering.
It is interesting that I was asked to work extremely hard on my dance and I wanted to. I was not judged on what I could read or not read and it was understood that you could be skilled and intelligent in a way that was not valued in the school system. It is difficult to grade or examine someone for their creative abilities, but this company nurtured mine and helped build my confidence. I was allowed to be a success. This is a feeling and environment I feel is crucial in schools - that everyone has something to offer and it is a teacher who should help you discover how to utilise it. I understand that not everyone is going to want to have a career in the arts, but the environment should encourage thinking. Even though you may not become the next Wayne Mcgregor it should be made accessible to you. It is not a fault that you don't know who Wayne Mcgregor is, it is there to be introduced to you.
At the age of 18 I was given a bursary to choreograph contemporary dance for the year. It was amazing; it made me feel I had reached a benchmark and it was proof that I was not hopeless and that I had options. I choreographed that year at the same time as completing my BTEC in Art and Design. It was an incredible year. I created a portfolio I was proud of and a duet for the performance of which I had a musical score, as well creating a film that was projected and used as part of the final performance.
It was at this point I had to decide if I were to follow a career as a dancer/choreographer or as an artist. It was a real struggle for me, but in the end I chose art over dance, as art is more accepting of other disciplines, and would allow me to continue to dance as part of my practice. Dance school strips you of your identity and you become a choreographer's tool. If you don't get a job, it is hard to not take it personally, as it feels that the reasons are aesthetic – the way I look , the way I move and how much I might weigh – which I didn't feel was a very constructive place for me to grow and develop knowledge.
Moving to London was tough, but I have been here for 8 years now and I can definitely say it is home. Going to university felt like all the pieces falling into place. It took a while but it felt right. There was such a positive atmosphere in the art schools I have been to. Everyone is excited about what other people are producing, you are pushing yourself and the people around you. You are having conversations that you have not had before.
Conversation is really important and the backbone of most people's practice. It was, it is exciting, people have such interesting ideas. In the right environment, where mistakes are allowed to happen amazing things happen. To be honest, it took until I was doing my MA for me to feel safe enough to make mistakes. I think this had something to do with my schooling, in that I was always making mistakes, in all of my classes. They were more often than not publicly displayed and seen as a negative thing, whereas now I feel that if I don't try something I won't know if it works.