Friday, May 16, 2008

Career Day

Sometimes, work can seem so tedious from day to day, but there's a lot of excitement going on at the Kildonan School right now. Today, despite the chill and rain, we had a fabulous career day. Dyslexic speakers, including alumni and other distinguished guests, met with students and faculty to talk about their experiences and the interesting paths their lives took on the way to their chosen careers. Architects, artists, entrepreneurs, filmmakers, humanitarians, economists, and others spoke candidly about their lives during and after high school and how dyslexia has affected them in the work force.

The one thing I found most interesting was that alumni who were asked what Kildonan experiences most impacted their success invariably commented on persistence and structure. The very structure that our students strain against each day (from proctored study halls to a strict residential schedule that includes dorm check-in, cloisters, lights out) was the one thing they felt helped them become successful. As teachers and administrators, we SAY this all the time to our students, but it was eye-opening to hear the first hand accounts. Through their daily struggles, our alumni learned to work hard. They weren't afraid to fail because they had already done it so many times and fought their way back. Because they were used to taking twice as long as "average" people to perform tasks, they were also willing to work the kind of long, hard hours in the work place that ultimately led to promotions. They kept pushing, day after day, until they made opportunities happen for themselves.

Another popular theme was the importance of finding something you feel passionately about...and doing it, passionately. For some, it meant giving up a family's expectation of entering law; for others it meant pursuing an interest in art. Many observations went like this "I started to do...but that didn't work out. I realized I had always I thought that might be a good direction to turn." Some of them simply chose career paths based on their interests; others used their interests to develop the courage to change their paths. All loved their jobs.

Perhaps my favorite observation of the day was that our visitors unanimously agreed that they didn't appreciate Kildonan while they were there, but now they think it made all the difference in their success. Our Academic Dean, Bob Lane, is fond of telling frustrated teachers that we are not in a business that has a particularly appreciative clientele. In general, dyslexic students don't WANT to be in school. Would you want to spend each day engaged in the very tasks that are the most difficult for you? It's a difficult road for them. At times they are appreciative, but teaching them is not a career (vocation? avocation?) where the client base says "Thank you so much. That was a great lesson; I appreciate all the time you put into preparing it." The clientele hates the service regardless of its quality. It is reassuring that 20 years later, they might finally realize the value of their Kildonan experience.

Those of us who work in this field, and plan to do so for the long haul, have learned that we have to take dramatic leaps of faith. We have to remind ourselves daily that what we are doing makes a difference; it may not appear to make a difference today or tomorrow, but the small successes accumulate over time until eventually a successful adult can realize "you know, that teacher really made a difference in my life." Teachers of students with learning differences have to believe, and sometimes against all odds, that we are changing people's lives. I am truly blessed, for I love what I do. I found what I feel passionate about, and I stick with it even when I want to give up, even when THEY want to give up. I can teach people with dyslexia to read; it sounds so simple, but it is profound. Through teaching students and training teachers, who will in turn teach more students (it's dizzying, isn't it?) Persistence, structure, passion...with these qualities, I make a difference each and every day. What an incredible gift that I have found this career.
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