When I was a kid, school was always scary. It was tough for me, so I was always walking on eggshells between meeting my parents’ and teachers’ expectations. I was always so nervous to make one false move, knowing that I would get another failing grade, and consequently grounded to-boot. From the earliest memories I can recall, I remember feeling stumped. I couldn’t comprehend a lot of directions, and I was left feeling horrible when put on the spot by a teacher to read orally, or to recall detail from something just read. I remember NEVER being able to give a correct answer and shrinking further and further into myself. I finally learned that if I could read orally well when called on, then I would gain the teacher’s satisfaction. When round-robin class reading from a text (the seemingly only method used), I would always sneak a paragraph ahead to read it to myself and just wait to be called on so I could show I could read it aloud like everyone else. Everyone knows when a kid reads aloud fluently, they sound more intelligent. That is all that mattered to me through 6th grade.
When placement exams came around for junior high, it’s no shock to me now that I scored, and was placed, among the lowest levels in Engelsby Junior High School. With the numeric leveling system adopted at the time, this was the lowest level, just above the MR pull-out special needs children, and it was a one-size, fits all cross-curricular. From the first day of school, I knew I was labeled. I would never even cross paths with all the other neighborhood kids, who were of course in levels 1 and 2. To this day, I have little memory of Junior High. I can identify the turning point, however. Mrs. St. Arnaud was my 7th grade math teacher. She took the time to show me long division, and something clicked. I am not sure if it was her step-by-steps, her mannerism, or her level of compassion, but I felt true success for the first time in my educational career.
It was all I needed. I spent the first two marking periods working with Mrs. St. Arnaud and my other level 3 teachers, earning perfect straight As. I can remember the mixed feelings felt when I heard from my parents that the school was moving me from level 3 to level 2 – scared to be removed from my success, excited they thought I was worth the shot. I decided to prove to everyone that I would still succeed.
Over the next couple years, I had my ups and downs, but was more determined than ever to keep strong. I mostly struggled with reading and English classwork come high school, always feeling like I had a hole miles long that I could not figure out how to bridge. Anything I could memorize or had black and white steps became a strength and outlet. I fed off one success after another, setting goals and being set and determined to do it all. I remember Mr. Dion had a list up on his classroom closet door for any math students who could earn a top year average in his class. I remember the list not to be very long, and written in small, meticulous handwriting, and I remember the day I saw my aunt’s name. My aunt was college educated and an engineer – I set my sights. I earned my name on Mr. Dion’s wall with a 99% average that year.
By junior year, I was signing up for dual enrollment and the first available AP classes. I took my first college course that year and had my first taste of collegedetermination. I attribute 100% of my success to those junior high school teachers who pushed me to the light at the end of my tunnel, and my subsequentdetermination, to the graduation with National Honors Society and college admittance.
Not everything was roses, however. I never quite got passed the fear and disappointment of my reading comprehension and verbal/English skills. After taking the SAT twice, my combined score was only a 1000, and I never had the courage to take a single AP test, even though I had taken, and done well, in several of the classes. I was a HORRIBLE test-taker, I knew no strategies to help me further, and would avoid the testing world like my own personal plague. I believe this is where my fear of teaching stemmed. When I thought of working with kids, I would smile, then turn sick to my stomach over the thought I could possibly turn the cause of even one of their parts of esteem being crushed. I could never fathom myself being a part of their intellectual development, and subsequently part of something that could cause them to feel an ounce of what I remember from early childhood.
Well, call me melodramatic, or what not, but you cannot change who you are, and that was who I was. Or was it? My dad’s question played over and over again in my head. Have you thought of teaching? I searched for my life meaning, hoping it would just come and hit me already. I wondered why I didn’t seem to already know it like so many other people my age. I was 21, living at home with two degrees, no job, and absolutely no idea what path I needed to follow.
I started asking myself what is it that I do naturally, something I love – and all I kept coming back to was teaching. I finally swallowed my pride, looked into masters programs for Education, and applied to the University of Massachusetts, Lowell in the winter of 2001-2002. Because of my previous dual major, I fulfilled all requirements automatically, with exception of the GRE. After NOT passing the GRE to university requirements, I was allowed into the program on probation after appealing to the Dean of Admissions. I took on a part-time job in a matting and frame shop to make ends meet and started plugging away.