Even though I do not have Dyslexia, I am well aware of how it feels to have a significant discrepancy in strengths and weaknesses as it relates to school performance. I was very athletic as a child. This was something that came very easy for me. I can't explain how or why. I simply know what to do when I am on the soccer field, softball diamond, or basketball court. I know and react. I excelled in sports and enjoyed the challenge and competition. If I wanted to be better I simply practiced more or worked harder. That was a simple equation for me. Hard work equaled success.
The opposite was true when it came to classroom performance especially in early elementary school. The professional me can look back and tell you exactly why I struggled but even at 39 years of age that is irrelevant to the part of me, the little girl in pigtails, that remembers exactly what it felt like to constantly be "in trouble" or often feeling as if I was missing something important. I would LOVE to get my hands on one of my report cards. A comment a principal made when I changed schools in 5th grade let me know there was very little written that was positive.
For me, everything came to a head in 5th grade. We lived about 30 minutes away from school and my dad would often drive me to school. Most days those drives were spent studying for my spelling tests. No matter how much we studied my grades rarely reflected my effort. This was very upsetting because the equation I relied on for success in sports was not accurate in the classroom. No matter how hard I worked I rarely did well on spelling tests and I was always in the lowest reading group. As the year progressed it became harder and harder to believe I wasn't a dumb jock.
A turning point in my life was when I actually did very well on a spelling test but instead of congratulations from my teacher I was accused of cheating. That brief moment of feeling successful as a result of my hard work was quickly replaced with disappointment and dread. My parents were called for a meeting and to say that meeting didn't go smoothly was a huge understatement. Thankfully my parents believed and supported me but the damage was done. I hated going to school everyday. Even all these years later all I have to do is think of that teacher or think of what it felt like to go to school every day and I am immediately filled with a sick feeling of failure. The first memory from 5th grade that comes to mind was toward the end of that school year. The reason the teacher took me into the hall is lost on me but the words she spoke will never be forgotten. My teacher said, "Melissa you will never go to college and you will be lucky if you even graduate high school." I was 10 years old and only had hope of playing basketball in college and being a part of the first professional women's basketball team. (I hadn't quite accepted I was a bit vertically challenged.)
There is a part of me that wants to yell and scream at that teacher but then there is a part of me that wants to thank her and my family because those words are precisely what drives me today. I went on to repeat that year in school but at a different school. The teacher I had the following year changed my life simply because she didn't see failure, she saw possibility in me. After the first 9 weeks I made honor roll for the first time but that would not be the last. I not only graduated high school, but I graduated with one of the highest honors bestowed upon a graduate, St. Cecilia Girl. Of all my accomplishments in life I think that is the one I am most proud of. I went on to the University of Tennessee, Knoxville where I ran both cross country and track. I was a co-captain for my junior and senior seasons on the cross country team and I was awarded Academic All-SEC several years in a row for both sports.
I graduated high school and college and pursued a Master of Arts in Speech Language Pathology. I love to learn and will attend any and every professional development I can. It took many years for me to embrace my academic success. It's hard to quiet the doubt a teacher places in your mind. Even while working on my masters I constantly second guessed myself and my knowledge. Those experiences in my life damaged a little girl and had the potential to break her but those are precisely the experiences I use daily to connect with kids. I know what it is like to have untapped potential that no matter your effort remains locked away. All those qualities that got me 'in trouble' in school are the skills I use to help make children successful in school now. So to those parents and children out there struggling and hurting, know that it is not to late to find success. The path to that success may look a little different than the person beside you but it is all success just the same. We are all given talents and we must learn to use them to be successful in spite of things that may be challenging.