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To the Teacher Who Gave Me My First 'A' as a Child With Learning Disabilities

I can’t remember your name, and that really bothers me, but I want you to know that you changed my life.

I was 14 years old when you came to my school from Canada on an exchange to teach English. You immediately struck up a rapport with your students. I can remember your smile and your accent, and that time you came to school wearing shorts in the middle of winter. When we asked you “Aren’t you cold?” you smiled and spread your arms wide and said “This isn’t cold! This is beautiful weather!” I suppose from your point of view it was positively balmy! But as a bunch of Australian kids who had never experienced anything close to a Canadian winter, we all thought you were delightfully odd.

You were the first teacher who ever noticed me. I want you to know that. I have four learning disabilities, but I didn’t learn about three of them until I was 29. I had to go through school with diagnosed dyspraxia, and undiagnosed dyslexia, dysgraphia, and dyscalculia, and it was hell. I didn’t put any effort into my school work, because I kept failing, so I thought “What’s the point in even trying?” My other teachers never paid me enough attention, or even bothered to ask me “Are you OK? Do you understand the course work?” It was easier to just fail me.

The only thing I felt I had even the tiniest bit of talent for was writing, and you saw that in me. You encouraged me to put effort into my school work, and to pour my love of creative writing into my English assignments. You gave me my first A. I will never forget when I saw that A written on my English paper. It will be etched into my memory forever. I thought “No… surely not? There has to be some mistake!” I’d never gotten above a C before. I was used to mediocre grades. I expected it. I didn’t think I was capable of getting anything higher, and you proved me wrong. You showed me that I could achieve greatness if I put in a little bit of effort and believed in myself. You gave me self-confidence for the first time in my life.

You were only in my life one year before you went back to Canada, but I’ll never forget what you said to me the last time we saw each other. You sat me down and said to me, “I believe you’re going to get published one day, Marisa. And when your book is released in Canada, I’m going to be first in line to buy it.” I remembered those words for a long time, and still keep them nestled inside me as a cherished memory.

Thank you, teacher. Thank you for everything you did for me. You probably don’t remember me, but I will always remember you for being the teacher who cared.

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