A couple of years ago, Pernille Ripp, a fantastic Grade 5 teacher from Wisconsin, asked me to do a guest post on her blog about my aha moment. As I sit down this weekend to work on updating IEPs, I can’t help but think about this post. My own experiences have definitely influenced me as a teacher, and certainly do make me believe that all students can learn. So for those of you that never read my post on Pernille’s blog, here it is again:
For as long as I can remember, I wanted to teach. When I was in Kindergarten and Grade 1, I used to pretend to play school, and I even wrote my lessons on the wall. There’s a house somewhere in Thornhill, Ontario that still has my Process Writing Lesson on the wall underneath numerous coats of paint.
School never came easily for me though, and while I always worked hard, I never seemed to make the grade. In Grade 2, I had a Psych Assessment done, and I found out that I had a non-verbal learning disability. I will never forgot the feedback from that Psych Assessment: I was told that due to the severity of my learning disability, I would always struggle with school, and I would be lucky if I even made it to college. In other words, forget about university, and forget about my dreams of becoming a teacher. I was devastated!
Looking back now, I guess that I could have given up at that point. I never did though. Despite having a really significant learning disability, I also had some really significant strengths. I learned how to capitalize on those strengths. My mom and step-dad helped teach me strategies to be successful in the classroom and to advocate for myself so that I got the accommodations that I needed to be successful too. I always spent double the amount of time on the homework as my peers, and in certain subjects, like geography, the lessons would often lead to tears and frustration, but I never gave up. I wanted to teach!
Thanks to self-advocacy, amazing support from home, and strategies that really worked, I ended up graduating from high-school on the honour roll, and I even got a scholarship to university. It was when I got the phone call from the President of Nipissing University offering me a Presidential Scholarship and a place in the Bachelor of Arts and Introduction to Teaching Program, that I had my aha moment: anyone can learn! As teachers, we just need to find a way to ensure that all students do learn. I cannot thank my wonderful teachers enough: they didn’t give up on me, and as a result, I never gave up on myself.
This is my tenth year teaching, and every year, I get a new group of students and a new opportunity to make a difference. My own experience has taught me that we can never give up on our students, and that we need to find a way to ensure that all of them succeed. At the bottom of all of my e-mails, I have this signature: “If they don’t learn the way you teach, teach the way they learn.” I am thankful for the teachers that did just this for me, and I will always do this for my students too!
I know that when I tweet the link to this post, there’s the potential for lots of educators, administrators, parents, and even students to read it. At one point in time, this would have worried me. What will people think about me? Will they question my ability to teach? Now I don’t think this way anymore. I think it’s important for everyone to know that a label does not need to define you. Setting high expectations for yourself and others, and exploring strategies to meet these expectations, are what’s really important. We can all learn. I promise all of my students that I will make them believe this too!