by Hayne Steen, LMHC
I have been a struggling learner my entire life.
In elementary school, I craved affirmation and attention from my teachers and peers. I was talkative, active, and impulsive. Keeping me focused for any length of time had to have been a challenging endeavor for my teachers.
Educators were not seemingly equipped to address underlying issues. Year after year, I squeaked by. I often dreamed of turning in excellent work to please my teachers and my parents. Due dates for assignments would come and go, and I would often miss them. I envied my classmates and wondered how they remembered to do their homework. Hundreds of times, I heard myself repeating a familiar phrase out loud in front of everyone. "I forgot to do my homework...again."
I often felt "different" and carried so much shame. Feelings of defeat and discouragement could consume me. I masked it with attempts at humor or not caring.
In the fifth and sixth grade, I spent a lot of time sitting alone at my desk outside of my classroom in the hallway because I was distracting my classmates. My misbehavior was a cry for help. I was drowning academically and the best solution that my teachers could come up with was to isolate me.
I needed more than that. Surely there could have been more helpful interventions.
In sixth grade, my teacher permanently placed my desk behind an enormous blackboard in the back her classroom. She isolated me from engaging socially, telling the class they were not to acknowledge that I even existed. Most days she turned the lights out in that part of the room so I could not seen. Classmates were threatened with severe punishments for talking to or about me.
I left Woodstock Elementary (K-6) and entered into seventh grade at Kemps Landing. It was overwhelming. All year long, I struggled to make even average grades and often felt lost during lectures and exams.
Toward the end of seventh grade, my social studies teacher, Mr. Taylor, reached out to my parents to schedule a parent/teacher conference. I was so nervous about why he wanted to meet with my parents.
Mr. Taylor was genuinely concerned about my readiness to move on academically. He recommended to my parents that I repeat the 7th grade. He spoke those words to them against the grain of what many other school administrators and teachers were recommending for me.
Mr. Taylor's advocacy for me was one of several necessary interventions that saved my life.
When my parents shared the option of being held back with me , I felt so much relief. Finally! I was being given an option that might allow me to have a second chance. I can only imagine what might have happened without his care for me as a struggling learner. His voice and advocacy in my life help reorient me in a whole new direction.
So we decided that I would repeat the seventh grade. In between those two seventh grade school years, I spent time with a school psychologist and professional counselor. My time with her marked by a mixture of meeting one-on-one along with some testing to explore any underlying learning issues. What we discovered was that I had plenty of intelligence but lacked focus, study skills and organization.
I started meeting weekly with a tutor and learning specialist who helped me get organized. She taught me how to focus, take effective notes, how to organize my notebooks, how to record assignments and due dates, how to prepare for tests, and a host of other necessary skills that I have leaned on ever since.
One teacher's advocacy partnered with my parents commitment opened me up to a world of resources that I had been needing and craving. It has been my longstanding desire to offer this same resource to my community someday.
That's why I am so excited to announce that my sister Brittany Steen is launching an amazing new Elbow Tree initiative called "Grassroots Education" offering targeted education services for struggling learners.
If you have a struggling learner in your home who needs some extra individual attention, I'd like to recommend you reach out to Brittany and explore if there might be some way she can help in your situation.
You can reach Brittany by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone (904) 559-1944 where you can leave a general message for her.
NOTE: Grassroots launches on April 1st, 2019.