Adult literacy teacher Maryanne Douglas and student Peter Lofts.
Adult literacy teacher Maryanne Douglas and student Peter Lofts.

Literacy course spells new life

At 54 Peter Lofts has begun writing poetry. Five years ago he couldn’t even read.

When the business Peter ran closed in 2005 he was able to go to TAFE through a Tursa training course.

“I said first thing that I had a low level of literacy; I can’t read or spell and she said it was going to be hard to find a job,” Peter said. “I was thinking, well, I’ve been working for a lot of years but then that self-doubt came in.”

Peter is extremely articulate, something that Maryanne Douglas, adult literacy teacher at Lismore TAFE, said is actually not that unusual.

“A lot of people who can’t read are very articulate and express themselves well,” she said.

Peter is now collating his ideas into a book.

He completed primary school and began fourth form, without any of his teachers recognising that he couldn’t read or spell.

“We hide it very well,” Peter said. “Not being able to read has lots of disadvantages. Think about not being able to read street signs.

“I used to have a job driving trucks. Getting to Sydney I would look at a map and write down the first letter of all the places I’d have to go through and then try and match them up with the signs.

“Of course I made wrong turns. It was the 70s and the signage wasn’t that good, so if I missed a sign I’d take the wrong turn.”

Peter said walking around town wasn’t too hard but shopping was difficult.

“Until recently, I’d never read a newspaper,” he said.

At the moment Maryanne has an evening class of five. Peter and Sam (not his real name) are the youngest students at 54.

“Initially getting to classes was hard. I had a fear of school. I’d come out of a school system that failed for me and I feared it would be the same again,” Peter said. “That I’d be a slow learner, have to go and sit at the back of the class, where the teachers used to put the kids they thought they were unable to help.

“On my first day, I walked in and was physically sweating I was that nervous. TAFE is totally different to school, it’s not the same environment at all. My first lesson with Maryanne was great, she’s a really good teacher and my fear settled there and then.”

“The hardest thing to do is to get the courage to follow the desire to get into a class,” Sam added. “The stigma put onto people who can’t read is what keeps people away.

“All the students have worked all their lives, we’re an asset to the community.

“It doesn’t take long to improve. We all help each other – we’re all in the same boat so no-one takes the Mickey.”

If you or anyone you know is interested in adult literacy and/or numeracy courses, contact Lismore TAFE on 6623 0200.

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