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I Am An Adult Educator

Monday, December 18, 2017   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Wendy Terry
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AAACE would like to thank Wendy Terry who provided the following article on her path to becoming an adult educator.The field to becoming an adult educator can take many different paths. We would like to have an article from other adult educators on what it means to YOU to be an Adult Educator. Please send your article to Donna Heavener at for inclusion in future AAACE newsletters.

Like many who work in adult education my path is non-traditional. I did not pass high
school, go onto college studying education- adult education - then seek a job in the field.

First, I was an adult learner, having dropped out of high school in 1966 LOL- a miserable failure. Thirty years later my path lead me to Harvard, the M.Ed program in 1996. What was this path?

I worked volunteer with a group of fellow part-time students at Ryerson in Toronto then a Polytechnical Institute to found the Continuing Education Students Association of Ryerson
(CESAR). The organizing issue was at that time Ryerson did not consider part-time evening
students to be students of the Institute. We won a person’s case and one could write a book
about this. Then I worked for CESAR as their first Coordinator. We organized workshops on
on subjects of interest to Ryerson part-time students. This could be considered my first adult
educator role, but I would not have called myself such at that time. I did want to help adults
go back to school.

Now in my early 30’s I had my son, retired from CESAR as the hours of work were mostly
evening and started to look for work in adult education. How does one get a job in education without being educated? I had started a BA program at York University three years earlier. I had become President of the Ontario Association for Continuing Education, OACE- a position earned in part by the founding of CESAR. As active AAACE members will know, you can rise fast in a volunteer organization if you are willing to put in the time organizing conferences, policy papers and so on.

My accomplishments in adult education associations- volunteer work- was in working with
other sector specific associations to host a Galaxy Conference. The first time private
career colleges, community programs, institutional programs had meet together. Usually they compete. In this it helped to be identified as an adult learner not as coming from any one of these sectors. Then as OACE President I sat on the Board of the Canadian Association for Adult Education. Again working with peer provincial associations and the CAAE Board, we restored the practice of hosting annual conferences. Again volunteer work, my advocacy for holding annual conferences was bolstered by having the support of professional educators who saw me as an adult learner who deserved support in this effort to get providers together. Thank You Henry and Jamie from down east and Brian from out west.

But how did I get a job in adult education. It was at an OCAE meeting that I meet Albert
Field of the Workers’ Educational Association of Canada. I was fascinated that at one time
workers who would not otherwise qualify for College, could attend non-credit university tutorial based courses in the liberal arts. It was lessons in the liberal arts that had turned me onto learning. One of my first teachers at Ryerson, a business writing teacher, would go off on philosophical tangents. He would get the class to discuss questions like: “ I am because I exist.” or I am because I do.” From then on, I wanted to know everything. What happened to this type of learning in Canada, which I have learned to label “adult liberal education.” An education that helps you grow personally and as a citizen.

I have learned that it was red baited out of existence. Workers studying philosophy, psychology, economics, public speaking was very suspicious in the cold war environment of North America. But not elsewhere I learned. The WEA hired me in 1983, as not being educated did not bother them given their philosophy. I became a director of the International Federation of Workers’ Educational Associations and IFWEA’s Liason to UNESCO. This was a result of hosting the 1992 General Conference of IFWEA at Port Elgin in Ontario. In these roles, I learned that WEA programming is still strong in all the Nordic countries and some Commonwealth ones, like New Zealand, Australia, and the UK where it started in the early 1900’s. There is non-WEA route to adult liberal education. Adult learning centres that foster the development of civil society had been developed in South Korea and Japan after WWII. It is a workshop by these groups which has brought me to my first AAACE Conference in 2017.

For IFWEA I worked to internationalize their membership with the support of the Participation funds of UNESCO. This was successful. At first working as the Coordinator for the WEA we tried to revive doing classes but there were so many providers competing for adults’ enrollment, and a focus on training dominated, this effort faded. But we were successful at working on the second objective of the WEA “to call attention to, and to spread knowledge of the facilities for education.” We developed learning information services for adults, the Adult Learning Line 1983-1997 serving over 5,000 a year, workshops for Internationally Trained Professionals, a Cross-Canada study of Learning Information Services for adults, “Unraveling the Tangle”. The Cross-Canada was prioritized for policy by the federal government and cited in policy documents. Workshops for professional newcomers became common place and the Ontario government set up a hot-line.

In 1989 the WEA temporarily lost funding for these services and I lost it. Many adults drop out of school due to problems they did not understand at the time. This was my case. I had discovered I was dyslexic through a WEA co-worker who took one look at my writing and sent my work off to her cousin, a specialist in learning disabilities. Now my son was going through this LD identification process, my Mom was in and out the hospital suffering from a debilitating illness.

Exhausted I went to counseling and finally started to deal with the pain filled process of coming to terms with childhood sexual abuse. The WEA got new funding, and we hired a new Executive Director. I continued to volunteer for WEA.

So I was again looking for adult education work but still uneducated, I had even stopped working on my BA. A friend who ran an adult learning centre for the Toronto District School Board asked me if I would take a part-time job helping newcomers find work. She knew of my accomplishment in community work, and at that time you did not have to be credentialed.

So for the next 24 years and 10 months I worked as an adult educator at Overland Learning Centre. First doing job search help, then in cooperation with WEA running workshops for
professional newcomers, then running a co-op program for newcomers, then teaching English to newcomers. I finished the BA in 1995, took a leave of absence to do a M.Ed. at Harvard in 1996-1997. So I was an ESL teacher and educated. I could say I am an adult educator.

Mind post- Harvard was confusing. No one in my family, aunts uncles and cousins, and there are many, ever finished high school. I have since read papers on first generation university
students. So I continued to work at Overland and continued to do volunteer work at the WEA. The WEA just celebrated the publication of our 100th issue of Learning Curves, a community newspaper for adults going back to school in TO and the GTA. It is volunteer published. In 2003 the WEA founded a liberal arts programs for community members who would not otherwise have access to a university education.

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