Who Is Mistral Dawn?
Mistral Dawn is a thirty-something gal who has lived on both coasts of the US but somehow never in the middle. She currently resides in the Southeast US with her kitty cats (please spay or neuter! :-)) where she works as a hospital drudge and attends graduate school. Taken By The Huntsman is her first effort at writing fiction and if it is well received she has ideas for several more novels and short-stories in this series. Please feel free to visit her on FaceBook or drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Wednesday, September 23, 2015
Is That The #Right #Answer? ;-)
Hey Everyone!! :-)
I've mentioned this before in a few interviews, but I'll say it again in case any of you don't know: I'm dyslexic. I did not learn to read until the age of eight, not even "See Spot run", and even now when I'm tired I'll confuse letters and switch things around both in writing and in speaking. It's a language processing difficulty, and it will be with me all of my life. Of course, I didn't come with a label attached to my forehead explaining that I'm dyslexic, so much of my early experiences with school were...interesting.
Kindergarten went pretty well. I didn't learn my letters to my teacher's satisfaction, but I did really well with numbers and she figured I wouldn't have much trouble catching up with my reading. After all, I certainly paid attention during story time! I remember looking forward to first grade. Kindergarten had been a blast, and I thought it would be more of the same but I'd get to stay the whole day! Boy was I wrong. It didn't take long for my teacher to decide I was mentally handicapped, and she was kind enough to inform the entire class about her opinions regarding my intellectual capabilities whenever the opportunity presented itself.
"Stupid," "idiot", and "retard" were labels she thoughtfully supplied for the convenience of the other classroom bullies. After a while, she also became convinced that I was deaf since, no matter what she did, she couldn't seem to catch my attention. Imagine that. She was so certain I had suffered hearing loss that she persuaded my mother to take me to my doctor to have my ears tested. My doctor informed my mother that I did not have a hearing problem, only a listening problem.
My second grade teacher tried, she really did. She was kind and patient and never called me names. It was obvious to her that I had some sort of learning disability, but she hadn't been given the tools or the training to identify what the problem was specifically or know how to help me overcome it. At one point she wrote letters on masking tape and put the tape on my thumbs to help me remember which direction the loops and swirls should go. Surprisingly, this tactic actually did help and my spelling scores improved for a while.
Unfortunately, my first grade teacher happened to notice the tape when I forgot to take it off during recess and reported it to the principal. She had been trying to force the school to have me "evaluated" for over a year, and this gave her the perfect opportunity. After all, she didn't want to share building space with a "retard."
What's "evaluated", you ask? Good question, my parents didn't know either. Being "evaluated" meant being pulled out of class for hours at a time day after day for weeks while various well-meaning, but utterly clueless, adults asked me lots of questions that I had no interest in answering. Now, of course, I understand that they were trying to determine what my IQ is and whether or not I needed to be placed in a "special" school. But at the time all I saw were a bunch of grownups who took me away from the one teacher who was on my side so that they could badger me to death with their questions. Predictably, I didn't cooperate all that well.
The end result was that my intellectual capabilities were "undetermined". My classroom scores weren't much help, as they were all over the map. In reading and spelling they were dismal, but I performed brilliantly in math, science, and social studies. So the decision the "experts" finally arrived at was to wait and see.
I probably would have been "evaluated" again in third grade, but my family moved and I ended up in a different school system. Fortunately for me, the school I went to for third grade was one of the foremost leaders in the country when it came to diagnosing and correcting learning disabilities. Unfortunately, I had pretty much lost any interest in being poked at by adults.
That was also the year when The New York Times ran a letter to the editor in which the late Isidor I. Rabi, a Nobel laureate in physics, was quoted as having credited his success to the fact that his mother always asked him if he had asked a good question in school. The letter was written as a critique of politicians who act without first considering all the angles of a situation. But that's not what my mother saw when she read it. To her, it was a suggestion of how to motivate the child she had been told was "stubborn" to "pay better attention in class."
So began a new campaign of badgering. As I'm sure you've already figured out, it didn't work. Instead of prompting me to focus, it resulted in me withdrawing even further. Between my mother and my teachers constantly goading me to open up, I came close to becoming mute. They meant well, of course, but the answers they were using weren't the right ones for me at that time. A fact that became clear to me after a few more weeks.
I'm not certain exactly what month it was, but it was before the holiday season and late enough in the year for us to have been in school for a while, so I'm guessing it was in late October or early November. I do remember it had gotten cold outside. My teacher was frustrated with me because I wouldn't respond to any of the techniques she had been taught to use to encourage children to take an interest in learning. Don't misunderstand, she wasn't a bad person, not at all. She wanted to help me. She was almost desperate to find a way to reach me. It was just her bad luck that I had already decided that school was a waste of time with nothing valuable to offer.
Finally, after spending a whole morning trying to get me to sound out vowels with her, she broke and swore. Yes, an elementary school teacher said a bad word in front of a student! Ooooo...for shame! It was actually the first word I'd listened to in hours. Realizing that she'd finally gotten my attention for all the wrong reasons, she needed to distract me. How do you distract an eight year old? You get them moving, of course!
This was a "special" class, and this teacher had been assigned to work with just me for several hours a day, so there were no other students to consider. Yes, I do realize, now, how incredible that was and how I should have been grateful to be that lucky, but I didn't get that when I was eight. She took me out into the hallway and we walked up and down the corridors for a while when she just stopped and looked at me.
She asked me how to get to the library. I'd been in school for several weeks, but it was still a new school and I hadn't had the opportunity to go to the library yet. I had no idea where it was. I shrugged my shoulders, but she wouldn't let it go. She told me that if I didn't know how to get from one place to another, I would be lost and asked me if I liked being lost. I had the typical little-kid fear of getting lost, so I said no. For some reason I still don't understand, I then uttered a few words that hadn't been dragged out of me. I figured she had boxed herself into a corner, because what could vowels have to do with not being lost?
I asked her that and she smiled as if she had finally made a breakthrough. Which she had, I just didn't realize it yet. She said that if I could read I wouldn't be lost. Pointing to a sign on the wall, she explained that it gave directions to the library, and I would know that if I could read. I thought about that and realized there were signs all over the place. How many things would I know if I was able to read those signs? For the first time in my, admittedly brief, educational career someone had given me a reason to care about what they were trying to teach me other than "it would make the grownups happy." It was a light-bulb moment.
So what was the point of this story? Well, it wasn't to illustrate the inequalities and inconsistencies to be found in different school systems in the United States, though they certainly exist. It also wasn't to highlight the fact that shaming and bullying people isn't a terribly effective method to motivate them to behave in the way that you'd like. Though that is also true. No, the reason I shared this with you today was to talk about answers.
Over three years, multiple teachers, my parents, doctors, and child psychologists, there were a lot of answers floating around. Many of these well-educated, intelligent people asked very good questions, questions that were both relevant and well-researched. They then came up with thorough, well-reasoned, and logical answers to those questions. The answers they had were correct, with all kinds of data to back them up. Almost all of the people I had been dealing with were both smart and caring, with only my best interests at heart. Yes, I was really lucky so many people were so invested in seeing that I got the help I needed, there's a lot of kids who don't have that.
But for all of their really good answers, none of them were the right answer. The right answer, for me, at that time, was very simple. A concrete, easy to understand benefit to a given course of action. Why should I want to know how to read? Because if I knew how to read I wouldn't become lost as easily. Is that silly? Maybe. After all, we're talking about the reasoning of an eight-year-old here. But does that matter?
Everyone has things that are meaningful to them that might seem ridiculous to other people. But if you want to connect with that person, do other people's opinions matter? Not really. Have you ever had someone in your life that you wished you could help, but you just hadn't been able to find a way to communicate with them? For some reason it seemed like you were on different channels? Did you consider trying to approach the situation from their perspective?
What about for yourself? Has there ever been a time when it seemed like everyone was urging you towards a certain course of action, but you just couldn't see the benefit? Maybe it's time to start giving yourself answers. Maybe the answers you give yourself will only convince you that there is no benefit. I don't know, you're the only one who can decide that. But one thing I do know: the right answer, at the right time, delivered in the right way, can open up whole new galaxies.