I am a teacher. I am a trainer. I am an educator. I am an administrator. These are the words I use to describe myself when someone asks what I do for a living. Then there is “I am an advocate for adult education.” This is a phrase I never used to use but find myself utilizing more often these days. It is the most powerful of the phrases and I wish all of my colleagues would add it to their titles too.
As many people have done, I did not plan a career in adult education, I evolved into it. I worked in communications and nonprofits. I loved travel and celebrated the unique nature of different cultures locally and abroad. Reading has always been one of my pleasurable pastimes; it is a gateway to information and ideas I never knew existed. Then, I learned about opportunities in my local area to teach adults. (As you’ve probably noticed, my impetus was all about me up until this point.) Then, I started teaching and year by year, my focus has been less about me and more about the students.
The students – amazing individuals who balance family with work at multiple jobs, some of whom have come from other countries and left so much behind, who have dreams of brighter futures for their children and sometimes themselves. The students changed the way I thought about our work. Instead of looking only inside the classroom to see what I could do to best support them, I began looking outside to the broader community and realized how much was hidden from the broader public – our neighbors, our politicians, and businesses.
Whenever advocacy is mentioned and volunteers are called for, the truth is, people usually turn the other way or look at their phones. Why is this? Probably, because it is an unknown experience or it is misunderstood. Most people are afraid this means talking with politicians or public speaking. Advocacy can be those things, but it is so much more! It is getting the message out to anyone and everyone, so that adult students, who are also our neighbors, can have more access to quality opportunities for education.
When I call myself an advocate these days, here is what I think of and hope that you will too: