An open letter to my former early grade school teachers 

Dear elementary school teachers of my early years,

The first thing you should know is that I remember you.  I remember all of you.  I remember your names and faces.  I remember the essence of your voices, even.

And I remember how you felt toward me and how I felt toward you.

When I was 19, I came back to the same area for university, and I made the trip to the school, to see as many of you as I could find.

I don’t remember why I was so nervous, but I do remember that the nervousness was mixed in with a sort of triumph.  Because I’m not sure you ever thought I’d amount to much.  And I did.  I showed you. I proved you wrong.  I turned myself around, academically.

When I was in your class, you saw part of me.  You saw my potential. But you didn’t see my reality.  My limitations were invisible.  But that doesn’t make them any less real.

I could always tell that you saw my potential, and it perplexed you that I didn’t live up to it.

“Does well on tests but doesn’t do her daily work,” you said.

“Does not follow directions.”

I probably still have the report cards with your notes on them, writing the pages of who I was and who I would become.  You may have meant well, expressing concern and being obligated to write something, but all those comments really accomplished was to set my invisible hurdle that much higher.

Parent-teacher conferences were even worse.

“She would’ve gotten an ‘A’ but because she hasn’t turned in any assignments yet for the whole term, she’s going to have to get a ‘B’.”

And then there would be trouble when my parents got home.  Big trouble.

I had to work hard to get out from under what you taught me to think about myself.

It took a mere five years to set the inertia in motion (and yes, I recognize the irony in that statement).

It took the next eight years to recover from it and find my place, to seize back my own destiny, to white-out the writing of yours and replace it with the real story of mine.

I give you credit for noticing my potential.  I give you a pass for not knowing I “had/have” Asperger’s/autism.  It’s not that I knew yet how to mask or act; it’s that the criteria in the diagnostic manuals were crap and hardly recognizable in the shy, quiet, lucid kid like me–the one who simply wouldn’t pay attention, do her daily work, follow directions.

It never dawned on anybody that maybe I didn’t do these things because I couldn’t.  Because after all, I aced my exams.

My test scores–and my mother, an educator herself–told you that I wasn’t slow.  They told you that I was in there.  My yin-yang-like dichotomies perplexed you.  I did This so well, but I didn’t do That at all.

My success revealed my failure.

What you were actually dealing with was a real live full-blown Asperger’s/autistic, but the cruel joke is that nobody could have known, and nobody would have been able to find out until I was 16-17, when Asperger’s was finally added to the DSM-IV.

But by then, I had learned to cope–not with Asperger’s/autism, you see, but with the world around me and The Systems it created, the moulds I couldn’t fit into, the measuring tools on which I couldn’t register.

I learned to Just Say Yes to homework and class assignments. I had gone against my nature and given in to the system, a system I had no say in setting up.  Because I was so adept and clinicians were (and mostly continue to be) so inept, I skated under the limbo pole, under everybody’s radar.

I remember always being in trouble.  I wasn’t doing This right or That fast enough.

Now I can say: lay off; I was processing.  I didn’t understand what you wanted.  God(dess) knows I tried to please you, or at least, to skate by under the rest of your radar so that the spotlight could be diverted away from me once again.

You thought I was being obstinate; I was only interpreting your words differently.  Every day was a daily struggle to Do It Right This Time, to not screw up, to not get in trouble.

But it happened anyway.

They say that the definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing over and over again, and expect different results.

Bullshit.

The real definition of insanity is to do something different each time, and end up with the same result.

I’m shocked that I wasn’t driven insane by the time I left that place.

I finished out Grade 4 there and started Grade 5 in a new place, far away from where I had been.

It was a struggle, because the underwhelming curriculum at your school bred laziness, a habit of coasting.  Being bored to death became my routine, and I had gotten very good at zoning out.

Luckily, I caught the rope attached to the proverbial helicopter just before it drifted out of reach.

It wasn’t entirely your fault.  You were stuck with me, per the legislation of the time concerning compulsory education and equal opportunity and the draconian restrictions on homeschooling.  You didn’t want me there.

I didn’t want me there, either, and neither did my mom.  But we were all stuck.

You can thank your teachers union for that, racking up as much funding for public schools by preventing my mother–a secondary level teacher herself–from homeschooling me.

I’m glad you didn’t have much by way of Special Education programs.  You would have sat me alongside the kids who drool on themselves.  That’s not to put them down, that’s just to say that that’s not the accurate placement for someone who was ready for multiplication tables by the time they entered kindergarten, or who was already reading at 4-5 years beyond the expected reading level for someone their age.

And this, ladies, gentlemen, and everyone in between of the jury, is why I don’t subscribe to age-related function levels.

Those expectations screwed me.  They thought that because I was 5-6, I should only have developed to a certain level, and also that it would be best if I was placed with other 5-and-6-year-olds who didn’t even know how to read yet.  Kids who couldn’t keep their fluids in their noses, nor lunch in their stomachs.  Kids who still needed a nap.

I didn’t know that I should actually be mad at you.  Thankfully, my mom explained, at the time even, where you were wrong and failing, too.

The good news is, I made it.  I moved 900 miles away and eventually went to med school, although that decision wouldn’t be made and that path would not be begun until I was 26.  I finally graduated at 32.  A late-bloomer is still a bloomer.

And then we moved 300 miles even further away.

If I were to walk up to you today, you might fight with yourself to remember me.  Physically, I haven’t changed as much as one might expect.  Mentally and emotionally, though, I’m a world away.  I know what and who I am.  I could finally explain everything, defend myself.

I’m pretty sure you’re still there, if you’re still alive.  You may or may not have wondered what became of me.

My feelings toward you oscillate between hostility and pity.  Or is it sympathy?  I’m not sure what the better word would be.  Maybe both.  Part of me holds you responsible; the other part of me chocks the situation up to a product of backward times, in a backward place.  So it would make sense to me that you were backwards, too.

That was then, and this is now.  What’s done is done, and everything that happened did so for a reason.  Maybe I was meant to struggle.  Maybe so were you, being faced with a student like me.

Life happens.

I’m OK, and at the end of the day, I hope you’re well, too.

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This is one of my more popular posts!

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(Image Credit: Anthony Samaniego)

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46 Comments

  1. My elementary teachers were great. I was lucky & also NT. Home was awful, school was wonderful. When I showed I could do work beyond my peers, they gave it to me. I always started the year in the front of the classroom because of my documented partial deafness but as soon as the teacher saw it wasn’t an issue I was allowed to move my seat.

    The whole idea of homework is to reinforce the lesson being taught, right? If you can pass the test, why is homework necessary? I’ve never understood that.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Agreed and amen, Sister! 👏🏼👏🏼. I never understood it either; obviously I knew my stuff; everything else was a waste of time 💚💙

      I’m so sorry you had to go through what you went through at home 💞💞💗💗. I’m glad you got a little solace at school 😘😘. I got some crap at home, too, especially if my mom wasn’t around. My dad would take that as open season on me. Argh. So I can relate at least on some level 😘😘💓💗💟

      So glad your elementary school teachers were awesome! 👍🏼👍🏼🌷☮🌷☮🌷

      Liked by 1 person

  2. “Underwhelming curriculum” rings …a full 9 hour peal of bells, actually, as most of what you’ve been writing recently, but right now I am better with programming languages than with the human variety, and as much as I want to respond –
    Eh. Autistic squid-hugs, and all that.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much! Programming languages fascinate me! I’ve never learned any yet, but would like to! They sound very sense-making 😊. Squid-hugs back to you, my friend! 🐙🐙😎💞

      Like

  3. So on point (as usual!)

    I clearly remember to this day Ms. Hawkings in 4th grade.
    We had to write a paper about an animal. At the time I
    was obsessed with the California Sea Otter, how it used
    tools to eat, wrapped itself in kelp to sleep, the list goes
    on & on. The paper which I was so proud of was met
    with rejection. Ms. Hawkings alluded that I had plagiarized
    my paper because it was “Too Well Researched?” is there
    such a thing? My mother flew to my defense chastising
    the teacher thoroughly, insinuating that her child wasn’t
    intelligent enough to write about his passions really hit
    a nerve. That memory will stay with me forever, just
    because a child is preforming at a higher level than
    their peers should really make a teacher happy, & not be
    met with disdain & rejection. You may not remember me
    Ms. Hawkings, I will always remember you, & sea otters🌊.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. You rock, my friend 😘😘. What is it with an educational system that sends negative signals to those who don’t fit the mould but rather, perform above it? Oh, that’s right–it’s about their own denial of their own mediocrity, but we don’t talk about that. Instead, we deflect our own dissatisfaction on innocent, bright kids and damage them for life, all the while being exalted as almighty teachers, some of whom are indeed awesome and under-recognized, but others of whom are overrated and over-recognized. Ugh.

      I’m so sorry for what you went through, and so relieved that your mom came to your side 😘😘😘💓💚💙💜

      Liked by 1 person

          1. Luckily both of my parents are Indigos 💜. So growing
            up as a Crystal we knew many empaths, clairvoyants,
            & star seeds, it has only been in the last year (thanks
            to this blog no less) that we have come to understand
            & re-frame in this wider context. We were always taught
            to see the good in people because we all have more in
            common than our perceived differences. Love always wins.

            It is interesting what terms the medical community uses
            vs terms used in the spiritual community. Makes you think…

            Liked by 1 person

            1. So very very true! Oh that’s so cool that both your parents were Indigos! 😁😁. My mom is, but my dad isn’t 💚💙. I totally love your philosophy and how you express it! I am in pure awe 🤗💖🌟💖🌟💖

              Liked by 1 person

  4. “Went to school and I was very nervous; no one knew me, no one knew me.
    Hello, teacher, tell me what’s my lesson; look right through me, look right through me.” – Roland Orzabal, et. al, “Mad World,” 1982.

    What you described was me in elementary school exactly, both my struggle in school and my struggle at home as a result of my seemingly poor performance at school. Somehow I managed to survive it, though I don’t know how. Unlike your parents though, my parents didn’t believe in homeschooling and even threatened to send me to boarding school or a military school due to not only my poor performance but my constant bitching and moaning (or what they thought was bitching and moaning, they didn’t have a clue I was autistic and in distress and refused to believe that I might have even had something “wrong” with me until I was a teenager).

    I so don’t miss those days and I sure wouldn’t relive them if given the choice.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Oh wow, huge hugs to you, dear bro 💞💞

      I love that passage you quoted! Synchronistically (sp?) enough, that song served as the basis for one of my earliest posts – https://thesilentwaveblog.wordpress.com/2016/05/05/no-one-knew-me/, and lingered in my head (the Gary Jules version) all through my earlier research of Asperger’s/autism 😊👏🏼👏🏼

      It just fit so perfectly for me, too 💓💓

      It sounds like you had it even tougher than I did; I admire your strength for getting through that shit 💐💐💐💖

      Like

  5. I can remember getting caught cheating in religion class because I didn’t know how to study and I would read something, but not comprehend it. There was no such thing as special education in Catholic school. You just made your way through barely passing. My mother would yell, discipline me and make me feel bad that I wan’t getting straight A’s like my sister. I hated the day report cards came out. She would say “You are not a B student,” whatever that means. School isn’t for everyone. Eventually I made it into college and graduated w a business management degree while raising two kids, taking care of a house and husband, and working part time.

    Sorry to hear you didn’t have a good experience, but look where you are NOW. They can’t touch you now.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow!! Go you 😁👍🏼👍🏼👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼

      I subscribe to the adage “that which does not kill us makes us stronger” except that I add “and gives us a few more victory scars” lol 😂😉👍🏼

      Thank you so much for your encouraging words, my friend 😁💞💞💞💜💙💚

      Liked by 2 people

  6. It pretty clear that most educational systems aren’t geared towards the particular needs and qualities of the individual child. There is a belief I have read somewhere that the education system starts to shut us down pretty much from early onward and isn’t often geared towards individuality or creativity or imagination. So if you are outside the mainstream you are going to suffer unless you are lucky enough to get a more sensitive attuned teacher. There were one or two at my high school, but I also got pretty damaged in lower school. ❤

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Great post. I fell thru every crack in the education system even tho I tested in the top 3 percentile of my class and got a 32 on my ACT. Nearly flunked high school and was kicked out of high school physics, went on to solidly ace an anthropology minor and get a sweet B.S. in sociology in college. My disability lawyer said he wished all his clients were like me, and my psychologist thinks I’m brilliant. I was the kid that poured glue all over another kid’s project and cut a little girl’s hair with my scissors in kindergarten. I was the kid that was moved to another class, all over, and eventually the front row. I was the kid that my first grade teacher begged to get to a psychiatrist. I am the grown up who raised my kids to be empathetic and compassionate, and they are thriving and beautiful to people all around them. I think the world needs lots more of us. I hope more and more of us start talking about how we made it in spite of all the jagged fails we stumbled through. Auties are quiet miracles, and you’re right, the wave is sweeping the world.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Hear, hear, sister!! 👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼. I think that’s a fine idea–for more and more of us to start (or keep) telling our stories about how we made it through various systems despite the challenges and adversity we face(d) while doing so 💚💚. Thank you so much for sharing yours! 👍🏼💙💜

      Like

  8. Awesomely great post. Speaks volumes as to our educational system. I/we can so relate to your testimony. I’ll never forget one guidance counselor I had who said I would be most suited for loading baggage on airplanes. It was poetic justice to meet him years later and talk about life.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. It sad that many academians forget that learning is a process and when we’re in our grade school levels we’re in our beginning stages. Sometimes I wonder if they forget their struggles grasping concepts at that age?

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Such an excellent point! Certainly gives food for thought 😊. And we would hope that learning is lifelong, including for them, which means that if they’re still learning, they’d be able to remember and not lose touch with that feeling 💞💞

          Liked by 1 person

    1. Lol 😂😁. I read them all, realize I hadn’t liked any of them, went back and rapid-fire-liked them lol 💓💓. I really do enjoy them! I can relate to so many – especially the ones about body image and depression. Omg did those hit home 💞💞. You write beautifully!! I look forward to reading more 👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼💟💟💯✅

      Liked by 1 person

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