A disheartened student curled over a desk, struggling to keep his eyes open. The student has become brutally aware of his altered perception of time as despite feeling as though he has been slaving away, pen in hand, for several hours, the clock on the wall reveals it has only been 20 minutes since he sat down at the desk. The night sky outside his window seemed to provide for an ominous setting as the air in his room felt heavy and unwavering, pressing upon his shoulders. He stared at the past paper that lay in front of him with unease. The past paper stared back, seemingly mocking him. The overwhelming fatigue which began to plague him from the moment he had first opened the paper urged him to rest his head for a few moments. The boy raised his head after what seemed like a few moments, raised his head to the sound of birds chirping and his mother calling him for breakfast.
The word ‘learning’ often comes with varying levels of negative connotations. The image of this boy is an image that may come to the minds of many when faced with the premise of learning. It is an image which was a reality for me at one point in my life. Rather than enjoying learning, understanding its value and appreciating my innate ability for being a relatively quick learner, I shuddered at the thought of doing any learning. I equated learning with long days listening to a teacher drone on about subjects I had little interest in, followed by longer nights, not unlike the one that I depicted earlier.
It is often said that fear is the ultimate motivator and for many years of my life, that is what I believed. Fear is what I used to get me through my education. A fear I wouldn’t be able to face my family after failing to achieve good grades, a fear I wouldn’t be able to get into university, a fear of failure. The school I attended for the former half of my secondary education did little to challenge my misconceptions about learning. Rather, it further instilled in me beliefs I held. Beliefs that learning was the enemy, and education its master. I thought, how could something that’s supposedly good for me result in so much unease?
Then, amidst my educational decline, my English class got a new teacher. I think I’d be underselling her importance to my story if I was to refer to this teacher as a ‘Diamond in the dirt’. The school was synonymous with bad behaviour and bad exam results due to even worse teachers. Rather than wishing for the lesson to be over, which is what I desired when I stepped into other lessons, I was hoping it lasted longer. These English lessons became the sole cause of my enjoyment at that school, and remain the main reason I am able to look back on my memories there with fondness. Learning became fun. Whereas once I was a slave to fear, I found myself becoming a student of education. There was nothing I enjoyed more than being able to apply a literary term or concept to my own work successfully.
There was one instance in particular. A memory I have etched into my brain. A moment I credit with fuelling my fierce passion for writing and the study of English Literature. My class and I were tasked with writing a poem on a topic of our choosing, a simple enough task. I remember rushing to the library after the lesson to work on my poem. A position to which I never thought I would find myself. The excitement I felt in that moment was likened to opening my presents on a Christmas day. As this was our assessment, I knew this was an opportunity to apply all I’d learned over the course of the topic. I was able to spread my wings, take flight due to the creative freedom the task offered. I typed in the title of my poem on that word document, ‘Inequality’, and I didn’t leave the computer room until I was wholly satisfied with the work I had accomplished.
Upon reading my poem, my teacher insisted I read it aloud to the rest of my class. This was prior to awarding me the highest grade possible, an achievement no other student in the history of the school had accomplished. Following this, my poem was published in the school newspaper, and I had a meeting with the headteacher discussing the contents of my poem. I began extensively researching into the conventions of not only poetry, but literature as a whole, writing extracts of my own novels, reading a wide range of literature. I had tasted success, and I wanted access to the all-you-can-eat buffet.
Not long after her brief but impactful tenure, my English teacher left the school to go back to University and attain a PhD. However, rather than slipping back into detrimental habits of the past, I continued on with my education and enjoyed it. Not just English, but the majority of my subjects. My journey to obtain knowledge taught me something very important. Learning is not limited to the classroom. My birth began a journey which started as an uphill battle, a struggle to understand the importance of learning. This journey led me to develop a passion for learning through the guidance and inspiration of my English Teacher. This Journey has culminated in my desire to inspire others to enjoy learning through the talks I give at various schools across the borough, to give others the same chance I was given.
Learning in all its forms gave me a much-needed perspective shift. It allowed me to see the value in life, and my responsibility in allowing others to see the value in learning, and as a result, life itself. Learning is a process. We learn every day. It cannot be avoided. Only accepted, and loved.