Dear Student With a Learning Disability: Your Future Is Brighter Than You Know
When I was a kid I swore I’d never work as a teacher because I didn’t like school all that much. The social aspect I handled just fine, but I found the work to be too much at times. Especially math. I’ve struggled with math my entire life. Which is funny when you consider my dad worked as an actuary, and my siblings were both academically advanced. I like to say that by the time I came along, all the numbers and logic genes had been taken. Plus I had a learning disability that went undiagnosed for many years.
Learning anything new was a challenge for me, and I felt like I lacked something my fellow peers had – the ability to know and understand the right answer. I also struggled with keeping myself organized and was constantly losing papers I needed to turn in. I remember one time in third grade we had an assignment to work on a small hand sewing project. This was a long-term project that we’d work on every day during story time. One day I discovered I had lost the materials (they must have landed in the same vortex as my lost homework and retainer) and panicked. Thinking that I wouldn’t be noticed, I pantomimed working on this sewing project, my hands under my desk, my head down. Of course I was caught. My memory becomes a bit fuzzy as to what happened next, but I still remember being embarrassed. My grades suffered due to my lack of organization and inability to recall facts. It wasn’t for a lack of trying though. I remember studying hard but still coming up short.
As I grew older, my struggles continued. Mostly in math, but soon I added biology to the list. For biology I obtained the book the summer before class started and began reading. That’s the thing about struggling… eventually you figure out how to make things nominally better. And you follow through. Upon high school graduation, my grades were a tiny bit better. But the struggle remained.
I moved away to college, a place known for its intense academic environment. And wouldn’t you know, the darnedest thing happened. I was passing all my classes. At the end of my second year of college I had accomplished something I had never done in all my years of school… I made the honor roll (in college they call it the dean’s list, which sounds even cooler). By the time I graduated college I had two dean’s list appearances under my belt.
So how did I suddenly accomplish academic success after years of struggling? Ah, young Padawan, your answer is in your question. If it weren’t for my struggle I wouldn’t have learned coping strategies that would help me be successful in college. Being able to tape record lectures and playing them back
later – a strategy I picked up in high school – was one of my many lifelines. Acknowledging my learning disability without shame was crucial to my later success. Oh, and that thing about not wanting to teach because of school struggles? I’ve worked in tutoring and child care for the last decade. See, I have a useful tool for the classroom. Empathy for kids who are struggling. Kids who sit in classrooms every day and feel “stupid.” Just like I did all those years ago.
So, dear student, if you are struggling with a learning disability and have dreams of college, fear not. You are learning now the tools you’ll need later for college success. And that will put you ahead of the class.
I hope this encouraged you. Please share with anyone you know who is struggling in school.
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