The first time I thought that people were dicks about learning differences was when I was 7.
I was in second grade and I would sit next to my friend who had dyslexia. Or maybe it was imposed.. Anyway it was great for the teacher ; since I was gifted in reading, I could help her (and maybe she’d help me with maths ??? can’t remember)
But gosh. She had trouble to read of course, and the more trouble she had, she would keep getting yelled at. All the time. She cried, and she would still get yelled at. The teacher had no patience, yelling at her because she was slow, she was so slow, she was bad, etc.
I always felt so angry and scared for her. I felt it was wrong.
I was seven years old, and I understood my friend’s problems better than this fucking teacher.
Without even realizing I would get yelled at the exact same way when I was struggling with maths. But that didn’t feel wrong, because I did not have any problem, I was just slow and stupid. That’s how I thought.
I just remember that time the year before, when I was almost crying with frustration on my arithmetic exercises because I had trouble to finish them. I was 6. First year in primary school, and it was horrible.
It was the end of class, and everyone had left the classroom to see their mum and dad and get home. But as they all took their bags and ran off, the teacher forced me to stay there. Because I hadn’t finished. I was too slow, too stupid, I was bad for not finishing so I was punished. Everyone was running to their parents in the playground and I was stuck here trying to put numbers together and calculate things and everything would get mixed up in my head and I had tears in my eyes. I felt so inadequate, I felt like something was terribly wrong with me and that I was such a stupid child and nothing made sense.
And my mum was still waiting for me in the playground because this fucking teacher didn’t think it’d be clever to TELL HER.
When she finally saw me from outside (through the windows) she came and got me and I was the one who felt guilty for worrying my mum who had to wait for me all alone outside.
Dyslexia and Education
My biggest frustration as a dyslexic is being misunderstood.
Dyslexia isn’t just a reading disorder.
Dyslexia can be really different for every person. It’s genetic. My brother has trouble with math. He doesn’t think in terms of value. He thinks in stories. To him, two didn’t stand for anything, it just was.
I have trouble writing essays. It takes me a really long time to organize my thoughts. The best tool for me is free writing. I’ll write for twenty minutes anything that comes into my head, related or not, and I don’t stop until I’ve got at least two pages. And from there I can more easily organize my thoughts.
But I didn’t know any of that going through high school, and I got really frustrated because I was trying so hard and everyone said I needed to apply myself more.
After finding out I’m dyslexic, and looking back at my education I felt so misguided. I had been trying to fit into a system that was designed for one specific type of person. But I’m great the way I am. My brain works differently than other people’s but that doesn’t make me disabled, I have skills in areas a lot of people don’t. Maybe I’m not the best writer, but I read outside of school often, and if I have something to say I can say it. If it’s MY education why do I have so little say in it?
(Sir ken Robinson said things at his Ted Talk that relate to this “Do schools kill creativity?” Anyone who hasn’t seen this already, should)
So my Science teacher keeps taking off points for spelling mistakes on my hand-written assignments. My grade is suffering now because of this.
I send her an email on Friday explaining the situation
for the fourth time because she keeps forgetting or just doesn’t care and she replied with one sentence.
“wouldn’t using a dictionary be useful?”
I can’t use a dictionary if I can’t begin to spell the word…maybe just do what you’re supposed to do and read my accommodations
If that's struggling, than what am I doing?
Some days I get so frustrated that I just want to cry. In the last week or so there have been a lot of those days. Granted, that might partly be due to the fact that I haven’t been sleeping well, but mostly I think it’s because I’m feeling rather discouraged.
Some of you are probably thinking that everyone feels discouraged sometimes. Yes, that’s true. Everyone does get discouraged sometimes, but this is a little different. If you also happen to have disablilties and/or learning differences, you might understand what I’m getting at here.
I hear other students complain about how they are struggling with some aspect of their courses. Then in the next breathe they go on to talk about the social events they attend, how they are so busy working every night, the clubs in which they participate, their volunteer work, the topic of their honours thesis, the possibility of going to graduate school, etc. If they’re struggling, what do you call what I’m doing?
I work only a few hours a week (maybe as much as 8). I take a 60% or lower course load. My social life consists of chatting with my co-workers during my shift or seeing a familiar face on the bus on the way to school. I struggle just to pass my courses even though I know I’m extremely intelligent. I don’t have time for parties, or dancing, or activities. My GPA is nowhere near high enough for me to even dream of graduate school, or trying for an honours degree. It takes me what feels like forever to make progress on an assignment (and I rarely manage to complete one). I haven’t had time for clubs, parties, volunteer work or movies during the school year since highschool. I’m lucky if I can spare the time to pair and fold my clean socks!
I can’t fathom what is would be like to manage a full course load. I’ve struggled to just keep up with my classmates for as long as I can remember. Being able to handle a full course load and have a life outside school feels like a total fantasy to me. I’d rank it as about as likely for me as sprouting wings and flying off to Neverland to live with the fairies.
I would love to be merely “struggling”. I’d settle for doing well enough to know that I’ll qualify for government funding to get my assessments in order so that I can get status as a student with disabilities. At least then I could take a lighter course load while keeping my status as a full-time student and get full access to support from the disability services department.
If I’d known how hard this was going to be, I would have taken full advantage of all the supports I was offered in highschool. I would have made sure that my learning assessments were kept up to date so that I could access support services in university. I would have put every possible tool, support and service to use from the very first day of university. Maybe then I’d be managing better.
If you are reading this and you have any sort of disability (especially if you are a recent highschool graduate or have yet to graduate) please take my advice: Make sure that you have everything you need to access support services in order and use those services, even if you don’t think you need them right away. Trust me, you might come to regret it if you do not take action now!
I don’t know of anything more frustrating than knowing that what your classmates consider “struggling” is about 10 times easier than what you are going through. Sometimes being different really sucks.
school culture and the LD student
One of our readings this week discussed the concept of culture within organizations. As participants within a certain culture, or as leaders who intend to create, shape, or change a culture, we must make an effort to understand this very intangible quality that carries a life of its own. Culture not only guides an organization’s view of itself and its environment, but it can also shape perceptions, beliefs, and actions. Edgar Schein defines culture as existing on three levels:
1. artifacts and creations - the organization’s physical space, language, dress, climate, behavioral norms, myths, stories, rituals, customs, ceremonies;
2. values - the organization’s outwardly stated priorities (though not all espoused values are actually practiced)
3. basic assumptions - the unconscious, nearly invisible and invincible, convictions held collectively by the members of the organization.
There is no question that the notion of “fit” in schools ties in directly to the cultures they possess. Particularly when talking about students and families who undergo admissions processes at independent schools, on what are these applicants and the schools basing their assessment of the child’s fit?
It takes time and experience to truly learn about the culture within a school because the basic assumption level of culture operates on the level of the unconscious. At the start of the relationship between family and school, then, it is possible only to discuss culture and fit on the basis of Schein’s first two levels. Families walking around the school can see displays of student work, portraits of distinguished alums, and carefully groomed athletic fields. They can read the school’s mission and learn of its commitment to rigorous academic offerings and to student-teacher relationships. Because basic assumptions guide the creation of artifacts and values, it comes as no surprise that determinations of fit based on levels one and two are usually successful. But what of those cases in which the fit is not really there?
I’ve always been concerned with the tendency of most schools to hang on to students in light of evidence that the child and the school may not be a good fit for one another. In an effort to do right by the child, the school makes a series of accommodations to make the student feel more welcome and safe in the community. But in my experience, not much really changes.
Schools are naive to think that they are changing sufficiently to make these children feel at home. Their modifications and accommodations take place at the first two levels, but what is being done to tackle the basic assumptions? Take the case of a child, diagnosed with a learning disability, who is enrolled at a school that prides itself on its academic rigor. In recent years, the school has made a number of changes: they’ve hired a learning specialist, created a “learning center,” provided laptops for test-taking, allowed for extra time on tests, and educated teachers about learning differences. The school has even changed its mission statement to state that the school provides a rigorous education to “all types of learners.”
Yet, this student’s name continues to come up at faculty meetings, and the student remains quite unhappy at the school. The family grows increasingly concerned and anxious about the psychological welfare of their child. And they should: a year in the life of a teenager is a long time, and multiple years is an eternity. This is a long time for the child to suffer.
So what is the matter? The reason that the school fails to meet this student’s needs (here, I am working under the assumption that the school wants to meet these needs; whether they should be trying to do so is a different matter) is that it has not examined its underlying basic assumptions. Many independent schools fail to reach a certain portion of their student population due to their reliance on “rigorous academics” as a defining characteristic of the school. The coexistence of “academic rigor” and “learning accommodations” creates a tension that most educational institutions cannot successfully maintain. Teachers follow the recommendations on students’ IEPs but in doing so, they see these students as flawed. How can academics truly be rigorous when students receive extra time or lecture notes, or in extreme cases, default out of the language program?
What is needed here is for the school to make a real commitment to challenging itself to define ‘rigorous academics’ and to examine how an LD student fits into that conception. In the end, these educators must arrive at one of two conclusions: they either make fundamental changes to the way they educate their students, or they go on doing what they’ve always done. If the latter, however, the school must stop fooling itself and these families, and be honest about the type of student it will actually educate. With all this said, the harsh reality is that no school can be everything to everyone, and schools need to stop pretending they can attain that ideal.
This essay has focused on the student’s experience, but in similar fashion, culture affects the faculty’s experience as well. Until schools truly examine the basic assumptions that drive their school, they will not have a true handle on what they offer to their various constituents. Who does not succeed at this school? Who does not fit in? Why not? These are the questions that allow organizations to dig beyond the surface and begin understanding themselves.
I have learning dissabilities and a lot of other issues.
I’m anxious about the future- about getting a job and keeping one.
What happens if I don’t understand a task?
What happens if I need more time than I’m assigned?
What happens if I can’t sit through a meeting because I’m stressed or have been sitting too long?
What happens if I suddenly can’t feel my hands and head or go into a panic attack?
What happens when I have an asthma attack, or my heart doesn’t work right? What happens have to go to a company lunch and have to turn down food, so they think I’m being rude. Or worse, I throw up everywhere?
What happens if I get fired, like my brother, because of my issues? (Not that anyone knew in my brothers case, but they affect him so greatly.)
What if I have to go on disability, like my aunts?
What if I get fired because I’m inadequate?
What happens when people continue to think I’m incompetent?
What if I work with Type A people and get so intimidated I can’t function?
What happens if, depending on my state, I’m a terrible employee, instead of the great one that I have the potential to be?
What happens when I don’t have learning disabilities specialists to go to when I’m stressing out, falling behind, and need someone to help me make a plan?
What happens if I get frustrated and scream?
The thing about these concerns, is that I know that they will eventually come true- it’s just a matter of when.