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When Teachers Failed to See That I Couldn’t Read

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I was the kid who caused trouble in class by cracking jokes. I was the kid always making excuses to go to the bathroom. I was the student who teachers called “dumb.” I was the student whom the school counselor told wasn’t “college material.”

For every parent-teacher conference I went to in my early years, I heard the phrase, “She has a lot of potential, but…” over and over again. What those teachers failed to see — because their classes were too full and my insecurities were so strong — was that I couldn’t read. I read enough to barely get by, but I continued to get passed up or passed over.

I wanted help but was too embarrassed to ask. In eighth grade, I had a first-grade reading level. Can you imagine how embarrassing it would have been for me to read out loud with the rest of the kids?

Middle school is tough; it’s when you are trying to figure out who you are. And in my mind at the time, I was being told who I was: “You’re dumb. You can’t be that stupid. You’re not college material. You have potential, but you just don’t measure up.” I had given up completely. So instead of trying to learn, I would use my usual phrases of “Man, this is stupid!” or “I hate this class!” I was on my own when it came to my education.

My mom and dad struggled to make ends meet. We rented our home in a neighborhood just above the project level. Our clothes were either gifted or second-hand, but once a year, my parents could afford new clothes for three growing kids. We felt so cool wearing our new off-brand shoes to school even though the other kids teased us. My parents worked full-time jobs and were gone most of the time, so we had to raise ourselves. Learning how to read was put to the side.

I understood the other “bad” kids at school because they were just like me, trying to just get through with as little scratches as possible. We all needed some sort of positive guidance. Mine came at the very end of eighth grade. I was called into a conference room where I saw my mom, my principals and a few of my favorite teachers. It was an intervention — of learning. What were they going to do to me?

I was given three options that would decide what my next year was going to be like: 1) I could be held back and have to repeat eighth grade, 2) I could go to ninth grade and be put into all remedial classes or 3) I could go to a summer school across the country and learn how to read. At the time, the first and second option seemed like they would be the worst possible fate for me, so I chose summer school in California.

Once I got there, I quickly realized the school wasn’t on the beach and the guys didn’t look like the characters from “Saved by the Bell.” The TV lied to me, but I was there to learn.

The school started from the bare basics. From mouth formation of the words, to the sounds letters make and finally to understanding how to read and understanding what it was that we read.

There were kids of all ages going to school right along with me, and it made me realize maybe I could do something with my life. I honestly didn’t want to go back to my real life when the summer was over. I didn’t feel ready to face the kids from my normal school.

However, I realized my attitude in class had changed when I returned to my school. I no longer needed to rely on my comedic skills or attitude to get me through the day. I could just push through and do the best I could.

I feel proud of myself for how far I’ve come since learning how to read. Who knew reading would change so much for me. I know now who I am, and I’m not dumb or stupid. I’m capable. I decide my potential. It’s never too late to learn something new. We all have passions to follow in our hearts. Now is the time to start following yours.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one thing people might not know about your experience with disability, disease or mental illness, and what would you say to teach them? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Originally published: April 27, 2016
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