I was in junior kindergarten when I knew I was different from my classmates. I didn’t know how to write my name, and when a large red “STOP” sign was held up to me by a frustrated teacher, I burst into tears because I had no idea what it read. I was always “forgetting” information that my teachers told me which led to great frustration (both for the teacher and me) and a lack of self-confidence on my part.
This continued from kindergarten to the second grade. Thankfully, I was in large classes of about 30 students, so I could easily hide and “slip through the cracks” because I had perfect behaviour (minus some emotional outbursts when I had to stay in for recess). I was always on time and did my homework (often taking hours and with the help of my parents, and more often than not, there would be tears). Also, tears are a recurring theme in my story as you may have already figured out. Fun fact, I did not sleep through the night until I was about six years old… my parents still remind me of this, and my dad thinks it had a significant impact on my brain’s development.
Unfortunately, not sleeping or being able to read a “STOP” sign was not the worst part. The third grade was when it all came crashing down. I was refusing to go to school, stating that I was sick every morning and having anxious fits. Although I was not actually sick, I often felt sick to my stomach as I had so much anxiety and fear about going to school. I was failing every test and assignment that was handed to me and my parents’ worries were growing.
My teacher often got very angry at me for being emotional, and I received no extra support. I was also held in for recess almost every day because I could not do the morning math activities or because I was slower at finishing work. However, one day when I woke up, my mom informed me that I wasn’t going to school that day. My anxiety instantly subsided. “Instead”, she said, “we are going to see a lady, and you will get to play games with her and read some stories together.” I was confused and had a lot of questions, but I got the opportunity to miss school, so I was thrilled.
When I got to her office (an educational psychologist), I got to play games, read some stories and answer questions. It seemed pretty uneventful to me, but when I was done, I waited while my mom and the psychologist spoke. After what felt like forever, my mom came out of the office and we went home. We never really spoke much about the day’s events, and as an eight year old, I didn’t think much of it.
A few weeks later, my parents told me that they were thinking about moving me to a different school. I immediately panicked and begged my parents not to take me away. Being a student with severe anxiety and a fear of change, this seemed like the worst thing ever. I had a “visitation day” at this school. The morning of the visit, I clung onto the banister in our house screaming and crying not to go to this new school. After a long battle with my parents, they finally got me in the car to go visit the school, the whole drive (about 20 minutes or so, I cried). When we got there, my mom and I were both in tears due to the stress and anxiety. I got into the classroom and all day I felt on edge, but I remember the teacher handing me a writing sheet and I felt so proud that I could so easily complete the sheet. Of course, this sheet was way below grade three level, it was likely grade one or two, but regardless, I completed it independently and felt proud.
The following September my parents transferred me to this school. It was not an easy transition. All summer leading up to the change, I would burst into tears any time anyone mentioned school or the school’s name. When it was almost time for school to begin, anxieties grew. I worried about EVERYTHING. Would I make friends? Where would I eat lunch? Would I be able to complete the work? Would I be able to find the washroom? What if I couldn’t tie my uniform kilt after gym class, and had to walk out of the change room without my kilt? What if I miss the school bus to get home and have to sleep at the school? These were all very real worries and concerns I had that made transitions almost unbearable. When school finally began, I was an “emotional disaster” as my parents stated. I hated taking the school bus as I had a huge fear of not finding a seat, getting sick on the bus, being late for school etc. the list goes on and on.
After a few days at the school I slowly became more confident. I was doing work that I was able to complete, I was making friends, and I was even confident enough to join some clubs during lunch time! And best of all, all of my worries about getting sick on the bus, not finding the washroom, and not being able to tie my kilt disappeared. I was in a small class of 16 students with two teachers (8:1 ratio) and I got all the academic and emotional support I needed. At this school, as my dad and mom would say, “I blossomed.” I was a happy, confident and thoroughly enjoyed waking up and going to school every day. What was so unique about this school was not only the small classes and outstanding teacher support, but how the math, spelling, reading and grammar programs are all individualized. For example, even though I was technically in the fourth grade and in a fourth grade class, I was working at a grade 2 math level and a grade 3 reading level. Of course as a young student I had no idea this was happening (the school was very subtle about grade levels and differentiated levels within the class), but for the first time I felt smart. I did not feel like a failure, and best of all, I never had to stay in for recess to do math questions!
I was fortunate enough to stay at this school until the end of the eighth grade. Here, not only did I thrive academically, but there was a drastic decrease in the tears (thank goodness!). Throughout my time I joined many clubs and I was constantly doing intramurals at lunch or involved in sports after school. Without a doubt, this would not have been the case at all if I had remained at my old school and had little to no academic intervention. At this school not only did I learn how to read, write and do math, but I learnt something much more valuable; that I was smart, competent and capable of success.
High school was (for the most part) successful. After I graduated from the elementary school, my parents and I thought it would be a good idea for me to try the local high school. This was a bit of a disaster. As a young student, I knew what I wanted to accomplish academically and for my future career, and I knew that this would not prepare me for what I was striving for.
After the first few weeks of high school, I was dreading going to school. I didn’t have many friends, I had a hard time academically I tried advocating for myself, letting my teachers know I had a Learning Disability and giving advice on my needs and accommodations. I felt as though not only was I not learning, but I was slipping back into my ways of having no confidence, having anxiety about attending school, and not having much hope for my future. This was very unfortunate, considering all the progress I had made at my previous school. I expressed my thoughts and concerns to my parents. They were equally concerned.
My parents contacted the sister school of my middle school, an academically rigorous private school. They, (and I) were concerned about my ability to succeed at this school, but they offered small classes and ample teacher support, so we took our chances. With a lot of convincing and the expectation that I have a full time tutor for math and science, the school accepted me. I was thrilled, and the worries that most students had about starting a new school were forgotten.
When my grade ten year started, I was so excited to be at this new school. I was making tons of friends, I was in clubs during lunch hours, and I was even on the soccer team! I was thrilled, and so were my parents with the success of this move. I was failing math, as I was not able to meet the very high standards this school had, but that problem was easily fixed with an amazing tutor, who I can say without a doubt was the reason for my success in high school. The next few years of high school continued, and I was continuing to love attending school. I was joining sports teams, I was in clubs, and I even traveled to Ecuador with some students at my school through Me to We.
When grade twelve came along and all my friends were applying to top universities and competitive programs, I was growing nervous. I did okay in school, I was a mid-low B student, but I did not have a guarantee of getting an acceptance. Then the letters started coming in the mail, I got about as many acceptances as rejections which I was okay with. I was actually pretty proud of myself for getting in anywhere! I had many doubts about getting in, and I had many sleepless nights worrying what would happen if I didn’t get in anywhere.
I decided to accept an offer from Brock University. I was accepted in a Bachelors of Arts program studying Child and Youth Studies. I have always wanted to work with children, more specifically be a Special Education teacher, and this was a getting me yet another step closer to reaching my goals. After completing my Bachelors degree, I was accepted to teachers college! My dreams came true! All my hard work and grit paid off. After completing teachers college, I now have a very respectable job working with students with special needs and doing teacher
training, I tutor at a centre three times a week, and I am a Champion Voice for LDAYR. This is not to boast, but rather to reinforce that with hard work, perseverance and advocacy; you can be successful and achieve your dreams.