Yesterday, I wrote a blog post after being inspired by Royan Lee‘s recent TED Talk.
Royan commented on my last post, and it’s his comment that’s actually inspired what I’m writing today.
I’ve blogged about some of my story before, but I’ve never shared the whole story. This is the whole story.
When I was in Grade 2, I was identified with a non-verbal learning disability in the area of visual spatial skills. Geography, geometry (especially transformational geometry), and mapping skills continue to be areas of great weakness for me. Then there is also my parking abilities, which have taken up many blog posts of their own. 🙂 At the time when I was identified as learning disabled, the psychologist told my parents that the gap was “too big,” and I would “never make it to university.” I always wanted to be a teacher, and this identification had the potential to crush my dreams (as extreme as this may sound).
There was another side to this story though: my sister. She is 13 months younger than me, but after being identified as gifted, she skipped Grade 1. We were in the same class. Here I was as a struggling student with a younger sister that was almost always at the top of the class. Thankfully I had parents that attempted to get us into separate classes, whenever possible, so that nobody would compare our skills: myself included. I also had teachers that saw beyond my learning disability and looked for my areas of strength. While I struggled in certain areas, I also excelled in others, and these teachers nurtured these other areas.
- They inspired me to write. As you can see from my multiple blogs, I still love writing.
- They encouraged me to read. I’m still an avid reader that always enjoys a good book.
- They listened to my parents and worked with me to determine strategies that work. As I learnt from a young age, students need to be of “average to above average intelligence” to be identified as learning disabled. Yes, I had gaps in my skills (I still do), but I also had the ability to learn.
My parents also spent countless hours working with me. I still remember sitting at the dining room table as my step-dad helped me memorize the locations of provinces on a map. I still remember “flipping” more triangles than you can imagine, and still not being able to determine where they should end up on a grid. I remember crying in frustration, and I remember my parents, patiently, working with me again until we figured out a way that I could see what I seemed blind to at the time. They fought for modifications for me, and they gave me a voice to speak up and advocate for myself.
- I attended my IPRCs.
- I asked for the extra time because I needed it.
- I got the labelled diagrams on the math exams because then I could do the math that I couldn’t do without them.
- I got the use of a computer because of my difficulties with fine motor skills.
During all of this time, I also listened as my sister vocalized some of the same concerns as my peers. “Why does she get extra time? Why does she get a computer? Maybe it’s better to be learning disabled.” I guess that this was my first experience with equity, and it was often the discussions with my sister that I thought back to, years later, as I tried to explain to my students why some students needed certain accommodations that others didn’t. I was grateful to those teachers and my parents that gave me what I needed to succeed, and now, I try to do the same thing for my students.
When I was in high school, my marks improved tremendously, and while I worked non-stop to keep them up, I was proud to see what I was able to do. I had proven the psychologist wrong, and I was going to go to university. I would get to be a teacher! I knew that this was what I wanted to do, so I only applied to concurrent education programs, and I ended up accepting the offer to the Introduction To Teaching Program at Nipissing University. I had never been away from home before, and I was terrified to leave my support system — predominantly my parents — to go to school. I’m so glad that I did though! I didn’t travel anywhere near as far as Royan did, but I did “find myself” in North Bay.
- I found some of my closest friends.
- I found my ability to “lead”: in residence and at the university.
- I found my “social self”: I joined committees, I played cards, and I went out with friends for the very first time.
People at university didn’t know my sister. They only knew me. For once, I felt as though I wasn’t comparing myself to her. I also felt as though others weren’t comparing me to her either.
When I came back home to Hamilton after four years, my sister was accepted into Brown University on a scholarship, and she was moving to the States. Little did I know that she would find the love of her life in Rhode Island, get married, have a beautiful son, and now make the United States her home. Maybe we both needed to move away to find ourselves.
We’re older now, and while I’m still amazed at what my sister can do and has accomplished, I realize that our goals were different ones. My parents love both of us and support both of us in different ways. Nobody compares us anymore … including me. I’ve learnt over the years that,
- there’s a place in this world for everyone.
- an identification does not mean the end of a dream.
- we all need support systems. Parents, educators, and friends can all be these systems.
- siblings are not the same … no matter how close they may be in age. Everybody deserves to be treated as an individual.
- we need to believe in ourselves and we need to believe in others. Everyone needs a champion.
- our own insecurities can sometimes cloud our perceptions. Sometimes we need to get away from our problems to really face them. Moving away to university allowed me to see what I could do, and not what I could do compared to my sister.
Thank you, Royan, for encouraging me to share my story. I hope that others share theirs. What’s your story?
Oh my, what a unique experience. You were like opposite sides of the same coin as sisters. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to see your little sis come up to your grade. Insane! Thanks for sharing what I’m sure is a very personal experience for you.
Thanks Royan for your comment and for inspiring me to share this story! We were like “opposite sides of the same coin,” but strangely enough, I think we both went through periods of wanting to be the other person. I think it was as we got older that we finally found comfort in our own unique strengths and true happiness in our lives. As a teacher now, I look at the experiences of my students — from those that struggle to those that excel — and I hope that all of them find happiness and success too.
Such a deeply personal blog post! I admire your voice and persistence to become a teacher. I find it interesting that some of the stigma associated with disabilities still exists. Often, teachers still have to explain why certain students get more attention. I would also say that it is difficult to give certain students the attention they deserve.
“Why does she get extra time? Why does she get a computer? Maybe it’s better to be learning disabled.”
I can also add that the identification of being gifted comes with certain obstacles as well. It seems that your parents instilled values that helped you to “live” with who you are. An identification does not mean the end of a dream definitely. I think it requires an adjustment in life and an adjustment in learning. I often think that teachers with challenges in their own learning become excellent teachers themselves. We can understand students’ struggles. And maybe we explain lessons in a way (and many different ways) so that we reach different learning styles. Or as an introvert, I can help the introverts in my classroom to adjust socially. I know their struggles. At the same time, I try not to make it about me . . .
Thank you Aviva, your post has inspired me to consider my own background as a learner which I’m often hesitant to admit.
Thanks for the comment, Enzo! I’ve shared pieces of my personal story in blog posts before, but never the whole story — especially with the additional context of my sister. I thank Royan for inspiring this!
You make a great point about gifted students also having their own struggles. They definitely do. In fact, I think that over the years — maybe based on my own experiences as well as what I’ve observed in different classrooms — I’ve come to realize that we all come to school with our own strengths and needs. At times, we may need additional support, and at other times, we may thrive. As teachers, the hard part is truly meeting the needs of all of these diverse students … and I think, it often takes teams of educators, parents, and support staff to make this possible.
Who we are and where we come from influences our teaching and learning experiences. I know that my experiences as a student — and now as an adult — with a learning disability make me more determined to meet the complex learning needs of children. I know that if others didn’t work so hard to address my needs, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Sometimes it’s hard to share such personal stories in such a public forum, but I think it’s these stories that help make us the professionals we are today. I do hope others will share their stories too.
An amazing blog on a personal subject. I am a Spec Ed/ESL teacher and am touched how your parents and teachers helped you discover your strengths and how they helped you with your areas of need. I am glad you had the strength to advocate for yourself as students today find that hard to do. I too don’t feel any child should be labeled and told what they can or can not do. As Teachers all students have potential and it is our job to help them find their way. Assessments or the “label” are meant and SHOULD be for the educators and parents. This informs us and tells us what students need. As teachers it is our role and responsibility to make every effort to work with those guidelines and find ways to help students Be successful no matter how difficult it may be. I hope that all students look back and say their teachers cared and did everything they could to help them move forward in their learning. Wishing all students have such a growth mindset and their families and community support them 100%.
Thanks for the comment, @floradteach! I definitely feel very lucky to have such supportive parents and to have had such supportive teachers! My experiences are a good reminder for me that all children deserve the belief that “they can succeed,” and the supports to make that possible. I hope that students can reflect on their experiences, know people believed in them, and know that they succeeded.