The story of an underachiever and how she beat the system


Hi, I’m Patricia Porter (Dr. Patricia Porter if you want to be formal!).  I was a classroom teacher for over 35 years, both in England and in Canada.

I always wanted to be a teacher but I thought that I would go to university to get trained.  That didn’t happen. I had done OK in school.  I got reasonable grades (except in Latin!) and was happy to bumble along.  I didn’t know it at the time but I was a classic underachiever.

I had passed my exams at Grade 10 level, they were called ‘O levels’ in the UK at that time, and was set to study math, physics and chemistry in Grades 11 and 12.

That didn’t go too well.

I loved physics, hated chemistry, and couldn’t keep up with math.  I barely passed two of my three exams at the end of the course.  I didn’t have enough good marks to get into university and, fortunately for me no university would accept me.

So, because I wanted to teach I applied and was accepted at Teacher Training School.  I didn’t go to a university until I had been teaching for many years. I have never earned a first degree.  This caused me problems later on – keep reading!

At the training college they taught me how to teach physics to High School Kids.  There was a shortage of science teachers at the time.   But my heart was more in the act of teaching, of working with primary age students than teaching physics.   I had my first of several battles with authority when I insisted that I did one teaching practice with younger students.  I may have been an underachiever but I knew what I wanted!

The teaching practices were tough and I really didn’t do too well on any of them.  By now I was beginning to wonder about this teaching thing.  Was it something I really wanted to do?

But I had to get a job.  My then husband was a student and we had two cats to feed.

I ended up having to take a teaching job that no one else would take.  On paper it seemed ideal, only twenty students, extra pay because they were designated as slow learners, and on a bus route that got me from home to school.  What could go wrong?

Well, a lot went wrong.

The kids were in a portable classroom at the end of the school playground so they already knew they were the ‘rejects’.  They came from a low socio economic area and had to be street wise to survive. They were not going to let a young, female, second year teacher tell them what to do!

It had a tough six months. Eventually I scrapped everything I had been trained to do and decided that the only way I was going to connect with these kids was on their own level.

I asked students to bring their pets to show the class (I didn’t like the snake!) and we drew pictures and wrote and learned about them.  They brought in sports shirts and we discussed the merits of different teams (this lesson got a bit heated so was never repeated!) and, because most of the time we had the playground to ourselves, when we all needed a break we played a simple running game that gave everyone a chance to win.

I am not sure how much reading and math the kids learned but I do know that they taught me much more than I taught them.  This underachiever was beginning to blossom!

After a year at that school my career was set.  I had found my calling. I was having a great time working with these so called ‘slow learners’ partly because I realized that I was one of them.  I understood that despite their issues with learning each of them had some hidden talent that was just looking for a way to show itself.  I knew how they felt!

After that year husband got a job in another town.  I had to move on.

My next move was to a school for ‘special’ children.  At that time children had to undergo the horrors of being tested for their level of ‘intelligence’.  This was a school for children who had scored much lower than average on these tests.

The students amazed me. I learned that these kids were bright in ways that never showed in school.  They had skills and were intelligent in ways I didn’t know about.

Later we emigrated to Canada and I started a new phase of my life.

I wasn’t going to teach.  I needed a break.   The education system in Canada had some basic differences from the UK at that time.  Class sizes were capped, salaries were higher and they had this wonderful job position of Learning Assistance Teacher.  I could work with students who had learning issues while being part of a regular school.

I loved this job.  I went on courses and took specialist training whenever I could.  I was taught by some of the world’s experts in how children learn.  I learned how to diagnose learning difficulties and how to help students overcome them.   This underachiever was beginning to break through.

I worked with other teachers, had close contact with parents and worked with children from all over the world.  I loved adapting my teaching to meet their needs.  When I left there were over 20 first languages spoken by the students and their parents!

While teaching I had always had a nagging question in my head.  I always wondered why some children learned more easily than others.   I knew that it wasn’t only a child’s intelligence that made the difference.   There had to be something else.

I wanted to know why bright kids struggled to learn.  Perhaps I was thinking about myself and my struggles even though I didn’t realize it at the time.

I was busy earning a living and I didn’t have much time to spend looking for answers.  But one day something happened that reignited my need to explore the issue.

I was talking with a friend who was a kindergarten teacher.  It was the beginning of the school year and she was doing intake interviews with parents and children.  I asked her how things were going and she told me that it looked like she was going to have about ten kids who were going to have a good year.

Her comment surprised me.  How could she tell, after only a twenty-minute meeting, which kids were going to succeed and which were going to struggle?

Her answer?  The kids who would succeed were those who were ready to learn.  They were the ones who came into the room full of curiosity, able to listen, willing to try something new.  They were the ones who picked up a book even though they couldn’t read.

They were ready.

And who had made them ready?  Their parents.  It is what the parents had done at home that had prepared their child to succeed in school.  As this experienced kindergarten teacher said, “What parents do at home is vital to a child’s learning success”.

I wanted to know more.  I went to the local University to ask who I could talk to about this, who could give me answers to how parents help their children succeed in school?  I was told, gently, that if I wanted to know more I should take a research course and find the answers myself!

So, after seven years of research guided by the university I found my answer.  (I also got a Ph.D. but that seems irrelevant).  It was when I was about to be awarded this degree that my lack of a first degree came to light and nearly stopped me getting the award! Fortunately, the powers that be took into consideration all my training and experience and I ended up as the oldest student on the award stage.

The answer I found was so simple and profound that it changed my life and has helped me change the lives of struggling learners around the world.

Now, after leaving the classroom, I work with parents around the world who are concerned about their child’s learning and want to support their child’s education in ways that make a difference.

I want to help bright, underachieving grow into their power.  I know how these kids feel.

I was one.

(In case you are interested, I was an underachiever because I had been taught in a way which did not match how I liked to learn and that led to a lack of self esteem and careless work habits!   I got a Ph.D. to prove to myself that I was bright and I learned how to take more care of my work!)

I have used my journey to developed the 5 step Porter Process to uncover a child’s learning strengths and weaknesses and I provide proven, practical strategies that help parents lead their child to learning.  I am still challenging authority.  I am still fighting to get kids voices heard.  I am still loving the changes I see when parents use my programs.

I don’t want any bright underachieving students to have to go through the struggles I went through to find my secret power!

Check out the programs I offer and please contact me if you have any questions or comments.









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