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A Postwoman's Round

Helena James Helena James is currently completing a Professional Certificate in Education: Adult Literacy at the University of South Wales. She worked for Rhondda Cynon Taff County Borough Council as a Basic Skills Lead Tutor for 7 years, and has recently joined ITEC Training in Cardiff.

Background I have been teaching in various capacities for over 21 years. For the past 8 years my focus has been on teaching Essential Skills and Family Learning programmes in community and workplace settings across Rhondda Cynon Taff. In that time, I have been continually surprised and inspired by my learners and their ability to draw on a range of coping mechanisms, so that they are able to 'fit in' and function in an ever diversifying literacy world.

One such person was Debbie Armstrong, who I met in a Communities First job club facility whilst supporting a group of job seekers that had identified themselves as having basic skills needs. Debbie had been unemployed for some time and had lost all confidence in getting a job; however, she believed she still had a great deal to offer the labour market. A single parent, who had only been certified with dyslexia in recent years, she was punished for writing with her left hand in school, and made fun of as a child because she was 'different'. She was absolutely right to believe she still had something to give the world of work.

After working alongside Communities First staff and attending basic skills support sessions for 5 months, Debbie was offered full time employment with the Post Office as a postwoman. Debbie decided to be completely upfront about her dyslexia at interview and, as a result of her honesty, her new employer granted her time to continue with her basic skills sessions.

Debbie's coping mechanisms before she attended class allowed her to keep her family safe, her bills paid and people at arm's length. Today, Debbie, when she is not delivering letters, continues to practise her writing skills in the form of autobiographical short stories based on her childhood experiences, hoping to one day help someone else. As Tausczik & Pennebaker (2010) put it; 'Language is the most common and reliable way for people to translate their internal thoughts and emotions into a form that others can understand. ’

This poem has been inspired by Debbie and her courage to overcome all that has been negative in her literacy life and turn it into a life changing positive.

References Tausczik, Y, R. and Pennebaker, J.W. (2010) The Psychological Meaning of Words: LIWC and Computerized Text Analysis Methods Journal of Language and Social Psychology 29 (1) 24-54


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