Teach Me

As I’ve blogged about before, when I was in Grade 2, I was identified with a non-verbal learning disability in visual spatial skills. With support from my parents, my teachers, and my friends, I’ve learned many strategies to cope with being learning disabled, and I even went through university on an academic scholarship. I really do believe that anyone can learn!

Being learning disabled has helped me a lot as a teacher.

  • I know that there’s not just one right way to learn. I’m a very big supporter of differentiated instruction in the classroom, and I always try to provide multiple ways for students to share their thinking and demonstrate their learning. This helps lead to success for all.
  • I know that as teachers, we need to capitalize on student strengths. To this day, I still cannot read a map (as demonstrated by my at least-once-a-year email to my principal asking where exactly my new classroom is located in the school :)), but I do have strong reading and verbal skills, so I can follow directions. I use this strength to overcome by weakness, and I encourage my students to use their strengths to overcome their weaknesses too.
  • I encourage students to advocate for themselves. I teach them how to ask for what they need, and to ensure that they get the support they need to be successful. Even with amazing parents and excellent teachers, there will come a time when students have to be the ones vocalizing their needs. The earlier that they’re comfortable with this, the better.
  • I admit when I don’t know how to do something. I ask for help from colleagues and friends, and I get students to teach me as well. Showing students that even as teachers, we sometimes struggle, helps encourage them to admit when they struggle. Then we can work on solutions together.

But yesterday I realized that being learning disabled can also make things difficult for me as a teacher. Non-verbal learning disabilities are very different than verbal ones. I don’t usually cite Wikipedia very often, but in this case, I think that it gives a good overview of non-verbal learning disabilities.

Most people that know me, don’t think that I’m learning disabled (at least not until they’ve seen me park a car — then they understand my visual spatial difficulties :)). Since I have very strong reading, writing, and oral communication skills, my areas of difficulty tend to be “invisible” in most cases. As mentioned in the Wikipedia article, I definitely am a person that fears failure. Ever since I started working towards becoming a teacher, and then entering the teaching profession, I’ve been determined to be successful. This is the reason that I reflect so much! It’s the reason that I’m always willing to make changes to what I do, and it’s the reason that I devote so much of myself to teaching. This is also the reason that I become emotional when problems arise. It’s the reason that no matter how much I’m totally, 100% devoted to always being positive, I struggle if or when I feel like a “bad teacher.”

So now I’m asking all of you to help teach me something new. How do you overcome these fears of failure when they arise? How do you block out the negative to only see the positive? As a learning disabled student and a learning disabled adult, I’ve learned many ways to overcome many areas of need. Please help me with this one!



22 thoughts on “Teach Me

  1. Wow, what a powerful reflection. I can so relate to struggling with a disability; however, mine is when I write (which can be difficult when reports come).

    The fear of failure I think is on everyones fear list. No one wants to fail. I know what I try to do is acknowledge that I am not perfect and that failure is only a learning opportunity. We need to reconize mistakes as just that mistakes. I remind myself rome was not built in a day and nethier will my learning. You also need to keep hold of the many great achievements that you do have. Whenever I think of negatives, I try to think of my family, my partner and my adorable daughter. Also I heard that it is impossible to frown while looking up. When you see the amazing things in this world and marvel at all of its wonders you cannot help but smile. Keep plugging away and from what I have read about you in a short couple of months you have a lot to be proud of and a lot to keep positive about.

    • Jonathan, thanks for the comment and the words of support! Thanks for also sharing more about your own story. I think that it helps to share our feelings and our experiences. I know that I found today’s blog post quite cathartic. Sometimes just writing helps.


  2. I have found that those feelings come and go. When they come I experience them in the moment and do what I can to keep trudging through whatever it is that I have to do. I do that knowing that the feeling will pass especially when I know I’ve done everything I can to be successful and help my students. And if I fail I try something different the next time, or at least make note of what didn’t work. 🙂

    Don’t know if that helps but that’s pretty much how I handle my fear of failure. I tend to jump in with both feet and try things so I’m used to failing even though I don’t like it!

    • Thanks for the comment (and the feedback)! Maybe this is something that we really do all experience. It’s nice to know that the feelings aren’t forever, and that certainly helps me when I do feel this way.


  3. I think we all have a fear of failure. Or maybe it’s just those of us who really see things as having to go a certain way. I can, and I’m sure most teachers can, think of the best lesson they created that did not go the direction we planned it to go. Does that mean we failed? Sometimes. How we deal with that failure is key.
    I am a perfectionist and so is my son. We struggle together to overcome the things we have no control over. For me, it’s in my teaching career, him in a classroom. I think I teach him it’s okay to make mistakes and to learn from them but at the same time, maybe I’m not modelling that. So, how to I model failure when I have a fear of failing?
    I think we, teachers, do it the same way we plan a math lesson–we plan times where we model failure. As we model it more and more, we become better at failing. And these days I’m felling like a pro!

    Thanks for sharing with us so candidly.

    • Thank you so much for the comment, Tammy! I appreciate you sharing your experiences as well. Today I was actually talking with my class about a difficult activity, and I explained that some may make mistakes. I also explained that it’s okay to make these mistakes because it’s what we learn from them that matter. I showed the students some mistakes that I made, and then we looked at how we could fix them. Letting the students see me make this mistakes made them more willing to take chances and make their own. Maybe this is one way that we can get beyond that fear of failure: learning from the mistakes that we make and moving on.

      Thanks for weighing in on this!

  4. Dear Aviva,
    Wow! Thanks for your reflective post. All I could think of was the student I work with that has a NVLD. She is very discouraged, but as I read your post, I thought…wow…my student could be a teacher some day! If I share your success…teacher, social media guru…I think you can be her inspiration. You have accomplished so much…I hope you find and maintain the positive space you deserve. Louise

    • Wow! Thank you so much for the kind words, Louise! You have me all teary-eyed right now (but in a good way). I hope that your student realizes that there’s no limit to what she can do!


  5. Wow Aviva, I was meant to read this today! My son was diagnosed with the same learning disability last year (Grade 2). As parents, we are trying hard to get him to capitalize on his strengths and advocate for himself. He is definitely coming along, but continually fears failure. So do I.. This is what I’ve learnt and what we discuss: failures are a part of life just as much as successes. In fact, we learn more and define ourselves better during our moments of failure than our successes. More importantly, how are we defining our failures? Is it when we can’t do something as well as the next person? Are we falling short on skills by our own comparison? Because that’s not a failure. That’s just life; everyone is different and and the world is better because of it. Having a negative, toxic attitude is a failure; and from what I know about you, you are far far from that! You are one of the most inspirational people I have met and if my son grows up with the ability to positively influence people (as you do), I will be a very happy and proud parent.. as he will have achieved great success in life.

  6. Thank you so much for the comment, Mubina, and for sharing your own story with me! You ask some great questions here, and ones that I probably need to ask myself more often. To be honest with you, when I was growing up, I feared failure a lot more. I was also uncertain of my own skills. I have a sister that is 13 months younger than me, skipped a grade, and is gifted. I always compared myself to her, and I thought that I would never be able to do what she does. Now that we’ve both grown up, I realized that maybe I can’t do what she does, but I also don’t have the same interests as her. I absolutely LOVE what I do, and I know that I’ve achieved success in teaching. I just need to remind myself of this from time-to-time. I also need to remember not to let the comments of others make me feel differently about what I can do. This is often easier said than done, but I’m working on it. Having great friends, a wonderful family, and tons of people online and in person that support me, helps a lot!

    I hope that things get easier for your son! He really can do whatever he wants to do! Many, many people reminded me of this today!


  7. I think its hard to be conscious about the strategies one uses to stay positive. its a tricky one because I think much research suggests that our perspective is often brain based and genetic even. I do think there’s something to be said for the connection between a fear of failure and perfectionism. We live in a culture of perfectionism and it’s not helping our adaptive abilities in happiness. I think letting go of that is the first step.

    For me, my barometer is my family. I can be positive and happy if my family is as well.

    Thanks for your vulnerability and leadership, Aviva.

  8. Thanks for your comment, Royan! I think that perfectionism is a big part of it. I’ve definitely always been a perfectionist, and I continue to be. I’m more conscious of this now though, and trying really hard to let go.

    I like the barometer of your family. Maybe considering something similar would help too. Sometimes I think that my reflection also increases my happiness. Just having the opportunity to share through this blog yesterday made me feel so much better, and hearing that advice of others, made me feel even better still.

    Thanks for all of your support!

  9. Hi Aviva:

    Thanks for your great blog. I read it quite often and am inspired by it. During the summer, I was catching up on some of your older entries and you talked about a lesson you found on teaching what the word “characteristic” meant. I should have bookmarked this entry because I want to go back to it now. I would like to use it in my Grade 5/6 classroom and also share it with my collegues. Could you please let me know where this lesson is online?

    Thanks, and keep up the good work.

      • Thanks Aviva! The link you provided is exactly what I am looking for.
        I will continue to read your thought provoking blog. Did you ever consider putting a reading list on your blog? Perhaps a list of great links or apps too. Just a thought.

        • Thanks for letting me know, Herman! I’m glad that the link was what you wanted.

          Thank you too for the suggestions! These are not ones I considered before but could be great additions. Now I’ll have to do some thinking.


  10. Hi Aviva, I keep reminding myself, and here comes the sports analogy, that at the end there can only be one winner in any sport, and everybody else will eventually lose, but do they really? How does this tie in to what your asking? The trip to perfection will have bumps along the road, but we learn, we retry, we reflect and when we succeed, we can learn from that too. Nobody is perfect and mistakes will happen. I taught a lesson two weeks ago and when I got to the end of it, I realized that I taught the concept incorrectly. As soon as I paused, a student clicked in and brought it to my attention with the rest of the class eagerly listening in and from this we actually used the mistake to teach ourselves the correct method. For the next few days, we purposely answered questions incorrectly shared them with our classmates who then looked them over, found what the mistakes were and then they solved them correctly and presented them to the other groups. It also demonstrated the need to double check work. The children loved this activity because it showed them that we can learn from our mistakes, that the answer was not as important as the method we used and that there was no such thing as failure if we were willing to learn and try. We all try our best, we share ideas with our colleagues and our quest is always to try and enhance our students’ lives through their education as best as we can. If the fear of failure and the fear of negativism is a result of people around you, just think of the successes you have had with the many students you have taught. On my wall is my “Wall of Fame” with all of my students’ class pictures. Nothing brings me a bigger smile than to reflect on the memories I have acquired over my fourteen years of teaching. Even today, I was sharing a negative moment and a positive moment with my student teacher letting her know that we can’t please everybody no matter how much we try. Our efforts may not seem as much now, but as our students get older and they run into us or start to visit us, they do remember all of our efforts. I’ve run into many former students of mine who have graduated from teacher’s college or have entered the nursing field and they recall the smallest detail that made a difference to them, and it stuck with them all these years. Keep smiling because you’re a great teacher with a creative progressive mind and your students are better for having had you at some point in their lives.

    • Thanks for the comment, Nick! I love the activity that you did and how you’re getting your students to learn from their mistake. What a powerful lesson as you made one of your own and learned from it together.

      I also appreciate your kind words! Sometimes just blogging itself can be cathartic, and sharing here has definitely helped me move on and see the positive. I do LOVE teaching, and I’m definitely enjoying my time with the students!


  11. Aviva,

    What powerful post. Dealing with the possibility of failure is never easy. My thought is that trust is most important. Trust yourself. Trust those around you for support. Trust your family and friends for guidance and advice. Without trust fear can creep into your thoughts. With trust you have safety net in case you fall and someone to help you up.

    Thanks for sharing!

    • Thanks for the comment, David! What great suggestions. I’m very fortunate to have a wonderful family and fantastic friends, and that’s helped a lot. Even just sharing here has allowed me to deal with my feelings and move past them. I vacillated on publishing this post, but now, I’m so glad that I did.


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