Imagine a world where in order to get to where you needed to everyone around you simply had to ride an elevator while you on the other hand constantly had to take the stairs because for you the elevator was always broken. Suddenly the climb up those stairs became the equivalent of climbing Mount Everest without a map and to add insult to injury the weather gets turbulent and before you know it you’re left to your own device to weather the storm because not many people feel that they can help you out of the shithole that life has graciously decided it needed to throw you in. Take this wonderfully horrific analogy and you have my life in the jungle known as an education.
When I was young I despised school, actually despised sadly is an understatement in relation to how I felt about school. I wanted the concept of education to jump off of something and die. I hated school a lot growing up, I had mentioned the bullying and problems of fitting in but there is one crucial piece to this screwed up jigsaw puzzle I call like that I never really touched upon, my struggle with academics. Growing up I didn’t get the best of grades and people had a really hard time trying to place me in an environment where I wasn’t getting babied yet I wasn’t pushed so hard I’d break. Placing me at times was the equivalent of trying to fit a square peg in to a circular hole and It was at times extremely complicated.
My earliest days of schooling consisted of me sitting at a separate table from the rest of the class with others who I would soon understand were “just like me”, intellectually challenged. It was their way of integrating without throwing you all the way inside of the sharks den. Essentially I was in a shark cage so I was close to the sharks but I never actually got to swim with them. I was always doing packets or assignments on laminated paper where the font was always two sizes two large. After several months of repetition I was fed up. I saw all the other kids getting a proper education an yet I was always babied. I constantly complained to my mother that they were giving me what amounted to “baby stuff” and teachers would constantly convince and reassure me that I wasn’t doing baby stuff. I said nothing else but in my head I was always saying what basically amounted to “cut the shit, you can stop lying now”.
When I was finally let out of the shark cage I struggled greatly with reading and English being some of my biggest weaknesses. I could never actually grasp a book unless it was of some interest to me. People were confused, it was clear that I needed a lot of help but they also realized that I needed to be challenged. There was never a happy medium and by fifth grade my teachers saw no hope of me ever making it far and even told my mother to her face that maybe it would be good if I ended up repeating sixth grade and that I wouldn’t get very far. From then on out things only got tougher and the fact that my mother threw me in a very rigorous charter school didn’t help the matter. We had went to an orientation and all I remembered was hoping to God my mother wasn’t heartless enough to do what amounted to throwing me into the dragons den with just a tree branch. A few months later she did just that, throw me into the dragons den. I was only a hair away from repeating six grade and every successive year was always a struggle.
My brother was enrolled into the same school a bit later and watching him succeed with flying colors while I struggled just to pass was extremely discouraging. The school always had an honors ceremony where they recognized the students who made honor roll and seeing my brother get that piece of paper so easily made me feel worthless. I felt incompetent and broken and constantly asked myself what was wrong with me. This feeling of worthlessness was furthered by an experience that almost never made me want to ask for help ever again. I was getting tutored by my ninth grade physics teacher and I just wasn’t getting it at all. No matter how many times he explained the concept it just didn’t click. He grew more and more frustrated and asked in frustration why is it so difficult for me to understand the concept. In that moment I felt useless and incompetent. Everyone one got it yet I couldn’t and I always thought I was the problem, maybe I just suck at school, maybe my head is just broken beyond repair.
It wasn’t until my sophomore year of high school that not only would my faith in teachers be re kindled, it would also be the point where I realized that I was never meant to take the elevator up the skyscraper or the shortcut through the mountain. In my sophomore year I had an Algebra II teacher who had the patience of a saint when it came to helping me out. I was very hesitant to ask him for help at first because I didn’t want a repeat of what happened with my physics teacher but when I realized how willing he was to explain a concept and reiterate it over and over until I got it I realized that the problem wasn’t me, I just never really had many people who were willing not only to make sure that I understood a concept but most importantly figure out how I absorb and retain information. I also realized that year that if I was to get anywhere in life I’d have to push myself harder than those around me. I made it a priority to stay after school of my own volition and seek out help when ever I needed it. I spent extra time on my homework and even completed assignments several days before they were due so that I had the time to make sure I was doing them to the best of my ability.
Years later I’m a college grad with a 3.4 G.P.A and a $120,000 piece of paper that isn’t very good at getting you employed in today’s economy. Today’s blog title is a quote by Julie Andrews. You can have the skills and brains but if you aren’t willing to push yourself then you won’t get far. Some spend their entire lives riding the elevator so when their thrown into a situation where they have to use the stairs they panic. Getting from point A to point B will always require a bit of work and most importantly you need to know when to ask for help but always make sure it’s from someone who is willing to adapt their troubleshooting methods to your situation because everyone is different. Too many teachers struggle to reach their students and all of a sudden it’s the fault of the students. Maybe the have a bad home environment or maybe they’re just not smart or maybe it’s too challenging for them. I have a better suggestion, maybe YOU’RE the problem, maybe it’s time to stop using cookie cutter methods to approach not just intellectually challenged kids but ALL kids. A teacher is only as good as their ability to adapt their style to a classroom for 15-30 whose learning styles are all over the place. It is of the utmost importance to figure out how each of your kids absorb information and to most importantly make it easy for them to ask you for help. If they don’t get it then maybe you need to explain the concept in a way that their mind will take in the information. For some it’s analogies, for others it’s pictures and for some it’s as simple as breaking things down into palatable bite sized steps. It is your job to figure that out and a kid should never be blamed for not getting the concept. Most importantly you always have to push students to be their best. Some may struggle but what’s most important is that you help them through it and that you never give up on them or let them give up on themselves. I thank my mother for putting me in such a rigorous school and seeing the potential that I never saw in myself at the time. I also thank her for spending long hours at the desk with me every night just to make sure I got it. Everyone is willing to learn no matter what walk of life they come from but the real challenge is not only keeping them engaged but keeping them coming back for more. Stay classy people.