Struggle. For the first 18 years or so of my life, I identified myself as a person who struggled. My struggles were real for me. Are there people with bigger struggles? Of course, but these are mine and this is my story.
I was born 4 weeks early and weighed 4 ½ pounds. Being premature, had some long lasting impacts. As a baby and child, I was sickly, sick all the time. If a germ crossed the state lines, I would catch it, and catch it bad. Who gets chicken pox on the bottoms of their feet and in their eyes? There were struggles with bed wetting, fine motor coordination, reading, math, and self control. Some would say self control is something still plaguing me. If I had ever been evaluated for ADD/ADHD I am sure I would have been diagnosed with it, and medicated up to my eyeballs. I started school behind and stayed behind for a long time. I used humor and sarcasm to cover what I felt were my shortcomings, something I still catch myself doing that today. Not doing work felt better to me than showing that I couldn’t do it.
My academic issues qualified me for Special Education, and I was placed on an IEP. School supports started in first grade and followed me to middle school. There were supports for reading, math, and fine motor and eye/hand coordination skills. The first book I ever read on my own was Danny and the Dinosaur, it was a RIF (Reading is Fundamental) book. I was so excited and proud of myself, but I didn’t share that joy with anyone. I was embarrassed, my classmates were able to read that book by themselves long before I could. My handwriting was terrible, I couldn’t tie my shoes (my brain knew what to do, but it couldn’t get my hands to follow through), and hitting a baseball was out of the question. One of my memories of special education help is of me standing in a classroom and trying to hit a tennis ball that hung from a string. My goal was to tap it five time with a plastic bat without stopping the ball between taps. I stood in that room with tears streaming down my face because I. COULD. NOT. DO. IT..
Do I hate special education? Absolutely not. At the time I hated it, I hated being pulled from my class for extra help, I hated that it was so hard for me to read aloud in class and that my classmates had to wait for me, I hated that I couldn’t keep up, I hated that I never was able to get basic math facts fast enough when we played round the world flash cards. I struggled in class, and teachers struggled with me. But, long after, I have a great appreciation for it. I have a great appreciation for teachers, that is probably why I became one.
Fast forward. As a high school student my grades were just good enough. I didn’t try very hard and I put forth minimal effort. Why? Well, it was my experience that no matter how hard I tried the results were the same as they were with little effort. I felt some people had preconceived notions of me and what I was able to do. Heck, I didn’t have a lot of belief in myself. There was a high school English teacher who told me that I had better figure out what I wanted to do, because college was not an option for me. Looking back, I am sure she meant it, it was not said in that reverse psychology way meant for me to get my rear in gear. It was said out of concern that I had not found a direction. Within a month of that conversation, I was called into the counseling office to discuss my ACT score. The thoughts going through my head were, “oh crap, I bombed, I am not going to graduate, they are going to hold me back.” This was my lack of self-confidence and self-esteem talking.
The conversation went something like this. It was a long time ago, so I don’t remember it exactly.
Counselor: Amy, I’d like to discuss your test score with you.
Counselor: Do you know your score?
Me: No, I didn’t open it.
Counselor: Why not?
Me: It doesn’t matter. Is it really bad?
Counselor: No, actually it’s pretty good, it’s a 25. Better than average.
Me: Okay, so that’s good, I guess.
Counselor: Like I said, it is good. Can you explain to me how you can get this score on the ACT and only have a 2.2 grade point average?
Me: I guess no one ever expected anything more from me.
Counselor: What are you going to do about that?
Me: I don’t know.
My answer should have been “expect more from myself.” But, I was 17, it took me a while to get there. And, I did. With the help of those who did expect more from me, and by helping myself. Now, instead of identifying as someone who struggles, I identify myself as someone who is hardworking and resilient.
As an educator and counselor, I make sure I let special education students, and all students who are overcoming things, know that I empathize with them, I know that their struggles are real. I tell them my story. It’s amazing how you look at people and understand them differently when you know their story. Even when I don’t know someone’s story, I know that they have one, and that allows me to begin to understand them, relate to them, and have empathy for them. This is my story.
-Amy Sienkowski, P2E Crew