BLÁTHNAID QUINN reflects on … Second Chances

In a previous life, I worked as a process engineer/project manager with large multinationals, but I also have worked with adults in the community in informal educational settings (literacy, numeracy and employability groups) for many years and this has become my main area of work now.

Just last week, I watched and listened as one of my students stood up and gave a presentation on his local town for an assessment. He is an intelligent man but struggled with dyslexia in his youth and not a small amount of teenage stubbornness (he freely admits now as a mature adult) and the unforgiving education system of its time.

He left school with few if any qualifications and a great deal of bitterness. He went on to make his way successfully in life. He came to us in his thirties, when a supportive partner persuaded him to face this literacy issue, one of his demons. He claimed to not be able to write his address and was not up to the task of reading anything aloud to anyone beyond one supportive listener, much less give a presentation. I provided the environment and tools to give him a second chance to tackle his literacy issues. He grabbed it with great determination and not a little stubbornness.

Watching him present his talk to the assessor and the rest of the group, despite all his nervousness, in a calm and competent manner, has caused me to reflect on second chances. It can be hard in adult life when we feel that our life has been mapped out and we are hemmed in and defined by our choices to break out of the mould we have given ourselves and define ourselves by. But there are second chances. I have taken many myself and ended up somewhere very different from where I started, carving a new identity for myself with children, a new career and a new country. I took that leap of faith into a new life and I watched my student also take that second chance and felt again all the thrills of that dizzy feeling of risk as you end up in a new place. I meet many people in my work now staring that second chance in the face. It is scary but oh when they face their fears, jump off the edge and snatch that second chance, the effects can be exhilarating, life changing and wholly uplifting.