WHO I WANT TO BE

Dear Reader,

Yesterday I logged onto my school email and saw a message from one of my professors:

“Sammy,

I just wanted to touch base with you and make sure you’re doing okay. You seemed upset during class yesterday (but perhaps you were just tired).

Let me know if I can help.

Best,

Professor Pennington”

If you look back at my recent blog posts, you can see that this week has been tough for me, and when she saw me in class on Tuesday, it was after I had spent the entire night in the suite, crying and writing and trying to study for my 8am exam the next day.

I don’t remember being particularly unpleasant or upset in class that day, but I’m often unaware of how often my face exposes my true emotions and thoughts.

Still, I didn’t walk into class and slam my things down or sigh or groan constantly. I remember paying attention to what was going on, but I didn’t participate in the conversation at all, and it was probably pretty clear that I had other things on my mind.

My professor noticed this and recognized that my behavior was different, but she then took it one step further to ask me about it–to make sure I was really okay. Because people have good days and bad, but people also have things they struggle with on a daily basis that often go unnoticed.

I feel very fortunate to be in the situation I am in. I go to an amazing school that has a reputation for it’s “unusually strong commitment” to teaching, which is something they really try to sell to seniors in high school. When I was a senior, though, I didn’t really know what that meant.

I didn’t know that I would have professors who would stress the importance of mental health being your top priority. I didn’t know that I would have two professors–one for a creative writing class and another for a geography lecture–actually recommend that I seek counseling, regardless of any stigma that’s attached, and then send me links to our university’s health services.

I didn’t know that I would have long talks with some of these professors that honestly felt more like therapy sessions than anything else and left me feeling good about myself and the future that awaited me. I didn’t know they would, in turn, open up to me and tell me about their wife who struggles with anxiety or apologize and say they have to run because they have a meeting, themselves, with a therapist that they can’t be late to.

I didn’t know that my professors would make me feel so cared for, regardless if it were a class of 11 or a class of almost 200. I didn’t know they would give me second chances and encourage me to achieve more, even when I felt like I couldn’t do anything right. I didn’t know I’d be writing scholarly articles alongside them or nominated for awards by them.

I didn’t expect this huge support system. If anything, maybe a handful of teachers would stand out. Or maybe two of them would really push me to publish my writing or vocalize how far they see my potential reaching.

But it’s much more than that.

I’ve had over twenty professors at this school, and they may not all be deserving of this praise, but even the bare minimum seems to have exceeded my expectations. But the special ones make up well over half and their dedication and their support is making more of a difference than I ever anticipated.

I had eleven classes with Professor Pennington before she sent me that email.

It doesn’t take a lot. All it takes is someone who is observant and who will listen. Someone who cares. Sometimes that’s all it takes to make a difference.

That’s the kind of teacher I want to be in my classroom. At the very least.

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Sincerely,

Sammy

WHY I CRIED IN CLASS

Dear Reader,

In this Monday’s “Learners with Exceptions” class, the lecture given by Ms. Molly Kelly-Elliott focused on “Specific Learning Disabilities.” She started with the topic of dyslexic learners, but then moved onto about ADHD (not a SLD, but it can sometimes be seen in these students as well).

She started using examples.

Imagine, she said. Your son comes home from school and he knows he has 20 math problems due tomorrow and a rough draft for a paper due on Friday. You tell him to get his homework done and you see that he’s not doing minecraft or surfing the web or anything. You see that he’s actually working. And when he comes down three hours later you say, is your homework done?

He’s shocked.

Done? I just started!

You look over his shoulder and, sure enough, see that he only has one a half pages written.

So you think, what?! How? This is a paper that you could’ve knocked out in thirty minutes! What is wrong with this kid?

But that’s just the way he is. He doesn’t think ahead and realize he should probably prioritize his homework and do the twenty questions of math first–the ones that are due tomorrow. He doesn’t think about the consequences. He has seven tabs open, doing research for this one paper–this rough draft–that is due Friday and he is completely unaware that he is taking up too much time with it.

She went on to talk to us about this poor kid–this poor kid who just doesn’t know! He doesn’t know he needs to learn how to learn! He needs to learn how to study and learn how to better organize his work. He has no idea that he’s different.

Example after example she showed us. Slide after slide popped up, analysing these students.

“Metacognition and Executive Functions of the Brain”

“Motivation/Learned Helplessness”

“Social-Emotional Issues”

You know, we’ve got to help these kids! She said. I mean, can you just imagine? Their brains are just making it harder for them and everyone else around them seems struggle-free, but they just don’t know. So they start to feel helpless and worthless and their self esteem drops–I mean of course it does! Wouldn’t yours??

She went on and on, urging the class to be empathetic. To put themselves in the shoes of these kids. And although the main topic of class was SLD, every example she used was a student with ADHD.

And every characteristic was one I resignated with.

Every example was a story from my childhood.

I was the student on the slides, being analysed in that classroom.

But she was right. I didn’t know. And even after that class, and even sitting here right now, there are things I don’t know about this disorder. This way that my brain works.

When I went in to see that therapist at 15, I didn’t think I could possibly have ADHD because I didn’t think of myself as uncontrollably hyperactive. And they didn’t sit down with me and say, you have a disorder called inattentive ADHD, but it’s something you can totally handle and deal with. It can explain some of your behavior or personality traits, but there are also some struggles that come with it that you might just have to work a big harder to overcome, just so you don’t have too much trouble in the future. Here, let’s focus on getting you (and keeping) organized and let’s work on some strategies that will help you with your schoolwork, like prioritizing and setting goals.

They didn’t say any of that. Instead, I learned I have ADD, but don’t worry because it’s basically a dime a dozen with your generation, oh and here’s some meds that’ll just fix you right up. Those don’t work fast enough? Here’s another brand. Oh, except that’s not on your insurance, so let’s switch to that one. Shoot, you’re having heart palpitations? Let’s do some tests–okay you have something called POTS, here’s three pamphlets and some more readings. This can help explain certain things you’ve been dealing with because it’s something you’ve had for quite a while, but it’s totally manageable. Here are some more tips and stories of other people with this. Do your research. Come to me with any questions. You’re totally fine.

Oh, back to ADD? Umm, here try this pill. Feel good? Good. Because without it you might start feeling completely worthless and fall into a downward spiral of depression and self-hatred. Haha yeah, sucks.

Good luck.

add

So that brings us up to speed to the present, where every new discovery just seems to hit me like a ton of bricks. And sitting through that class did just that. I blinked back tears as I sat in the corner of the room and tried my best to inconspicuously wipe away any that had already begun to fall.

But it’s so weird going through school to become a teacher, because you realize how much more help you wish you would have had when you were there. I wish I was offered a class about how to study rather than a practically pointless study hall. I wish my English teachers had shelves in their classrooms, filled with row after row of alternate books we could read and discuss in class, or separately with them, because there’s so much literature I wish I hadn’t missed out on in my coming-of-age years. I wish my guidance counselor actually knew who I was past a transcript and an ACT score and, I don’t know, actually offered guidance.

My high school years are behind me, though, but I’ll still get to see thousands of students go through them themselves when I actually become a teacher.

I don’t know, I guess that’s my revelation here. There’s a lot of progress to be made in schools (and I only touched on a very very small part), and I’m determined to see it through.

I’m just trying to minimize the amount of tears shed in college. 

Sincerely,

Sammy