We hear from a woman called Mo. Mo first came to DALC as a student six years ago to do a spelling class. She believed education was being ‘a good speller’ but she soon developed a love of learning. She has since gone on to further education to study Community and Youth Work. She is back in DALC doing her placement with the group she was once a part of as a student.
Tell me about yourself, your background and your life?
I come from a big family; 11 children. I am second youngest. I hated school. I was terrified of the nuns; the nuns were cruel. I was left handed. They tied my left hand behind my back and forced me to use my right hand. I was so scared that I couldn’t learn – I was in fear. They weren’t all like this, but one particular nun was very cruel. That gave me a fear. If you have fear, you never learn.
At 11 years of age my mother took me out of school and I went to work in a factory. At the age of 18 I met a man and got married and had five children. It was very embarrassing as I couldn’t read and write when the children went to school so I started learning from their little books. I picked up the ‘thes’, the ‘ands’, from their little stories. I tried to go back to adult learning classes in the school that they had for parents. In one of the schools, the principal used to do a one to one with me. He was very good. I was busy being a mum and busy with life, that I couldn’t focus on it so I gave that up. My mother and father got sick so I was carer for them for 18 years. I was always looking after other people so it was hard to learn. Over the years, I popped into different things trying to learn.
Did your own experience have an impact on how you helped them in school?
I feel it was so important for them to have the best education that they could. I made sure they never missed a day in school, if they were sick I sent them to school. It was important for me that they got the best education they could get.
Tell me about your current learning journey?
Six years ago I decided, you know what, I had enough of waiting for people coming to help me to fill out forms – how to turn on the computer, how to look for something on the computer. I went to the local employment exchange and told them I needed help with my reading and writing and they sent me here. I passed by this building everyday and I never noticed it. I spoke to Sue here (tutor) and that was the beginning of my journey. It was a very, very difficult thing coming in the door. Very hard coming up those steps.
I came in with a determination in me. The girl in reception Colette was very nice to me, she was very friendly. It was the summer , June or July and Sue was constantly on the phone to me. She made me not lose that determination. She rang me over the summer to tell me about what classes were on. She cared enough to keep in touch. I said I would give this a shot.
On the first day I did First Aid; I was thrown in at the deep end. The first week I was with Pat (tutor) and she told me to write about myself. She told me write a page and I thought she was mentally disturbed! I told her I couldn’t do it – did she not realise I can’t write? She really believed in me. I said to myself I am only here to learn spelling, I had that thing in my head. That was what I thought education was.
My idea of what education is has changed. It finally clicked with me.
How would you define education?
To me, coming here gave me a lot of confidence. It built up my confidence. I am not on my own. Why was I embarrassed about this all my life? Even our own Taoiseach at the time couldn’t spell!
Education is about me. It is not about anyone else outside of me. This is not about my children, or anyone else. This is about me.
I got a hunger to learn. I was willing to give anything a go. The more I learned, the more I wanted to learn. It is hard. It is difficult trying to fit family life in with education but I had this determination, and I still do. This is about me. It is about your own personal journey, how far I can bring – me.
I am now in further education. I did three courses. The first course I did was after a year here. I was so interested in animals that the course I did was Animal Behaviour and Welfare. I’d never been to college. I went in there, gave it a shot. I hadn’t a clue. I got a merit in nine subjects. There was Latin and all in it – I had to work out the meaning of loads of big words. I walked in and I said I’d give it a go. I was interested in animals and learning about animals. Then I did the Level 4 in Communications, then a 2 year course in Social Studies. I got eight distinctions and one merit. I was still attending DALC and they gave me help with my assignments. Now I am studying Community and Youth Work and I am back in DALC to do observation and placement.
What has it been like being back observing a group that you were once in?
I started off in this same spelling group. I am back now remembering where I was six years ago. I can relate to them (the group) big time. That’s why I try to encourage them. I have been where they are. And I understand how they feel. I had the same issues around reading and writing – you have no confidence reading out, all eyes on you. I can relate. I understand how they feel. They are really embarrassed but they don’t say it. There is a lot of joking and laughing but that is a cover up for how they really feel.
What is the most powerful thing about coming back to education that you want to pass on?
My children said to me when I came back to education after two years – “Ma you walk differently now.” I have my head up. I let people in. I didn’t shy away. And that for me sums it up.