Tell us about a teacher who had a real impact on your life, either for the better or the worse. How is your life different today because of him or her?
For a long time, I thought I was stupid. This was thanks to our High School which has the lowest education rating in the state. It’s bad in my home county. Really bad. And the silly shits worry more about Johnny playing football than Johnny not getting an education. If they only understood that the football program is just as bad as the education system and Johnny is NOT getting offered a scholarship to XX college because of his football skills. Hell, he ain’t likely to get one for his brains either considering the school system.
It hasn’t changed since I was in school. The system was always low man on the totem pole of the state. We had very few teachers that could actually teach. Our principal was totally useless as a teacher and from what one of the parents, who went to school with the sucker, said, he wasn’t much better as a student. He was a walking failure. His attitude was if he couldn’t and his kids couldn’t then no one else’s kid should. And he made damn sure that happened. We had an all expenses paid scholarship for a very prestigious school endowed in the 1910s. We had no clue it was out there. Our principal and our guidance counsellor both made sure none of us knew about it. Wonderful men. Makes me want to pee on their graves. Think what they did to all those lives they should have been helping. If you were a girl, the first thing they asked was if you wanted to go to beauty school and learn to be a hairdresser. Right. They were shocked when I said I was going to college. I have a lot of hatred for them. They had no right to be where they were but our county is stupid. Hell, it even voted for Santorum on his way out the door.
I was bad at math. I was passed with Ds because I was trying. I was also bad at science after you got past the basics. It was like a big jumble to me. I could do algebra right up until we added numbers to the equations. We are talking 12 years of a vast discrepancy between my reading/history/english and my math/science. None of them ever caught there was a problem. I just thought I was stupid. Never mind the reading group put me at 3rd year college when I tested and the math/science group dragged me down to the middle when the scores were combined. They never noticed. Or cared.
So I went off to college and decided to become a journalist. I was good at that. I was excited. Right up until I couldn’t get any classes because everyone decided to be Woodward and Bernstein. The second year of no classes in my major and I quit and went into the Navy. I was a computer programmer. Let me tell you, it was hell. Pure hell. I hated it. I was happier when I was working in Master-at-Arms or Shore Patrol. I did that a lot. Anything to get me out of programming. I didn’t mind operating. I was fantastic at operating. I hated programming with a passion. Considering what I was going to find out later, it makes perfect sense.
I went into psych and worked as a Mental Health Tech. Much like my Masters-at-Arms and Shore Patrol jobs. I loved it. I worked with those patents who were too violent to be placed anywhere else in the hospital. I eventually went to work with the Criminally Insane. Adored the job. Hated the other staff because half of them should have been in there. Liked the patients. They were what they were. That simple. My job was to help them not be what they were as much as I could. Yeah, it was a losing battle and I can count on one hand those who were “saved” but I never stopped caring and trying. I didn’t burn out from them. I burned out from the other staff. When we got the drunk for a supervisor it got really bad. The nurses office downstairs would smell of alcohol.
While I was working in psych, I took classes in psych and psych nursing so when the final push/shove came I went back to college. I got my degrees btw. Several of them. No not in psych or nursing. In Ancient Relgions with a focus on the Ancient Med and Mesopotamia with a focus on Jewish Studies. Well… and I picked up a few others along the way like Business, Computer Science, and a couple more. It’s easy once you have one degree to get more. A snap.
The teacher that made the vast difference was Fahenstock. He taught at a community college level. That was when between testing and classes, we realized I had a severe form of Dyscalculia. Numbers drive me crazy. They don’t make sense and stay in place for me. I can do my times tables up to 5. Well… I’m not even sure I can do that any more. 3 and 4 always gave me a hard time but 6 was impossible. He focused more on the logic than the math. As he said, if you get the logic, the rest is just grinding out numbers. I could use a calculator. I was in heaven. And I discovered I was damn good at Algebra. I tutored it. It was like a flood gate opened. I wasn’t stupid. I was smart! I really was. My entire life, I thought I was stupid. Nevermind how hard I worked to cope. And let me tell you, I worked hard. When I was tired was when the Dyscalculia was noticeable to others. If I am very tired, it shows in other areas like spelling [which I ain’t great at anyway because of how I learned to read].
But for the first time, someone understood and understood I couldn’t do the math but I could do the logic. I even did one of the hardest sets of puzzle questions. He didn’t cover it and I asked him if I had done it right. He showed the class. And told them if they could do that puzzle, they understood Algebra. I did it. I got the right answer. I did all the extra questions on assignments. I loved doing it. I loved “math”.
My entire outlook changed. It didn’t hurt I was being praised for something that before the teachers just passed me on because they had pity on me. He gave me something I had been missing for 35 years and no kid should be missing. Self confidence and understanding. I understood how I function and how to cope and I wasn’t stupid.
Dyscalculia is a form of Dyslexia. It runs in families. My half sister has it but in a much milder form than I do. She was able to work as a bank teller. I couldn’t. I can’t handle money like that because it is numbers. That’s okay today. I don’t have to do it. And I have coping systems to let me function. It may take me more time to do something than a person who doesn’t have it but I can do it with my systems unless I’m extremely tired.
I also wonder if the Dyscalculia is the reason I read so well and so fast. I learned to cope and I may have transferred those skills into other areas. I don’t see words, I see pictures that mean certain words. Words are not made up of letters. They are pictures formed by certain letters and they are always the same word. That may be why things like your and you’re don’t trouble me as much as others. I’m not spelling them. I know what that picture means and what it sounds like.
The best descriptions of what it was like for me can be found in Stephen Cannell’s video series on Dyslexia. Except for me, it was numbers and science. It may be a learning disability but it is anything but a handicap. Take Cannell as an example. He is a well know writer of books and TV shows. If you watched Castle playing poker, he was one of Castle’s poker buddies.
We are what we are but it is our teachers that make us what we become.