The lessons a trainer learns 4: Too old to learn?

Laura was 48 when she applied to participate in the REYN program.

„Am I told old to enter a program like this?” she asked, looking away, as if ashamed of her age.

„Noone is too old to enter this program” – we reassured her, adding that it is admirable that she is ready to get a new qualification and start a new career. Laura sighed with relief. She had already worked in a kindergarten before, as a kitchen aid and sometimes she was also assigned to classrooms to help the kindergarten teacher. Now she was ready to get a training and qualification as a kindergarten assistant.

Laura started her training course in October 2018. Upon our regular mentoring meetings, she was usually cheerful and talkative during out meetings but I felt that something was missing. During the course, participants had to prepare for classes online, material was sent by the instructors by e-mail.  She didn’t tell me for weeks. Shame is a feeling that gets imprinted very easily but is very hard to overwrite with trust and acceptance. During our regular consultations, upon my questions about her progess with the material, she usually told me she is doing fine. I offered her to download and print the material but she said it wasn’t necessary, she can access it. On the third occasion, she admitted that her smartphone stopped working and she had no means to buy a new one but said it wasn’t a big deal since  she would borrow her teenage daughter’s phone to access the training material. However, two weeks before the final exam, when I asked again if she needed any support, she admitted that it is too complicated to access her e-mail inbox, she forgot her password and her daughter is reluctant to lend her phone to her. She didn’t even start reading the material.

At first, I was angry at her and myself. Why didn’t she trust me enough to tell me sooner? Why hadn’t I spotted out sooner this issue? Why didn’t I insist… then I realized: I could have only insisted on doing things she didn’t want me to do. Asking for help and accepting help is not easy at all when you have been told all your life that you are not as worthy as others. When you are „just a Roma woman”. I took a deep breath and set aside all my other work. I told her I understood that using an online platform we have no experience with is challenging. I told her that we can access that I’m glad she told me. That I can help her access her e-mail through my computer. That I will print everything out and we can even go through the material together.

„You would really do that?” she asked in misbelief. She expected me to tell her off. I told her I have time for her and we can meet again in a couple of days and as many times as she needs before her exam. So together we figured out how to set a new password that she would remember. We looked through all the instructors e-mails and printed out the exam material. I asked her to explain the exam structure and we devised a plan, breaking the material into sections and discussing what is the essence of each. She started to enjoy learning once a structure was in place. I started to enjoy her excitement. We met four times in two weeks and spent together a couple of hours where she could show me how she was progressing and we could discuss questions further and bring up real life examples so she could remember the essential points easier. She was especially nervous about the exam because she got in a conflict with one of the instructors who dropped a racist comment on Roma families and Laura did not hold her opinion back – more about this  one in the next blog post! She was afraid that she would fail the exam even if she knew every answer, simply because the instructors hate her. I assured her this could not happed. She looked at me and nodded: „Okay, then I’ll do whatever I can to pass the exam”.

When the exam day came, both of us were nervous. I knew she was ready. She managed to finish the material, she read and understood everything and we agreed that whenever she gets stuck, she would think of an example from her previous work experience in the kindergarten. She promised to text me as soon as the exam is over. At noon, I got a message: „I got a 4! I passed it! Thank God and thank you!”

In Hungary, grades go from 1-5, 5 being the best. 4 is great. Laura did great! We both learned so much on trust.