November 01, 2016
An English professor at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, Chris Sears also teaches adult basic education at the Phoenix Kwantlen program. With up to 15 students in a class at any given time he helps bring a love of learning to people who usually started life fearing education.
“Many of the students come in thinking that they can’t be successful in school,” Chris says noting that most have a long history of frustration or failure in school. The Phoenix program remedies that, he says, by being a friendly, productive and happy place. “It dispels some of the things they believe about themselves,” Chris says.
He recalls one student, in particular — a man whose whole life pattern had been “unspeakably disheveled.” He had been homeless for some time and was also functionally illiterate. “I have no idea how he got the guts to come in,” Chris says, but he worked with the man who eventually earned his high school equivalency certificate and then went on to study in a post-secondary program. Chris stays in touch with him until this day.
Describing his work with the Phoenix students as “fun and fulfilling” Chris says that he also gets back more than he gives. “I’m a bleeding heart small-L liberal type of guy, but I had some preconceptions that I had to face up to them pretty fast.” He quickly realized, he said, that the students weren’t just different versions of him. “Just because it works for me doesn’t mean it works for the student,” he says. “It’s my job to find a way to present the material so that they can learn it.”
Chris knows that many of his Phoenix students have money challenges. Even though their fees are largely covered, time in school is time they can’t be working. As well, may of them have learning differences — what used to be called “disabilities” such as dyslexia or ADHD. But the biggest issue is usually their own preconceived notions. Chris enjoys helping them learn that learning can be fun.
“It’s always heartening when you see someone put their head down and just go for it,” he says. “It’s pretty damn thrilling.”