Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Adversity in Elementary School

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For the next few days I'm going to share some of my adversity experiences and I thought I would start with my early days at Blue Creek Elementary School, Latham, New York (just outside Albany). Everyone experiences adversity regardless of who they are because no one is immune from it. It's how you deal with it that determines the final outcome.

From the very beginning, it was a struggle academically. Since it never occurred to anybody at the school to retain the services of an interpreter, I had to sit in the front row so that I could read the teacher’s lips. Classroom discussions were virtually impossible to follow because I couldn’t hear what was being said around the room. In a vain effort to keep up with the flow of conversation swirling around me, I was always asking whoever happened to be sitting next to me what was being said. Eventually, I got tired of watching everyone shrug their shoulders indifferently and rolling their eyes. I began to pretend that I knew what was going on. Fitting in was so important to me that every time the kids laughed, I laughed along even though I was clueless most of the time.

I spent every spare moment trying to keep up with my peers. While most of them finished their homework well before dinner, I was often holed up in my room right up until dinnertime, only to go back and work well into the night.

One evening, I was working on a math word problem. For the life of me, I couldn’t solve it so I asked my father to help me out. We had been going over it for more than a half-hour and making no progress at all. The smell of pizza drifted in from the kitchen. It was almost suppertime.

My father decided to try one last time.

“Stephen, read through the word problem again,” he said.

After I read it aloud, he added, “Now, do you add or subtract?”
Hesitantly, I replied, “Add?”

“NO, STEPHEN YOU HAVE TO SUBTRACT, SUBTRACT, SUBTRACT!" His eyes were bulging, ready to pop out while slamming his fist on my tiny desk, almost knocking over the little green lamp. I shivered in fear. I wanted to dash beneath my bed and stay there forever.

Going to school wasn’t much better either. Kids taunted me and called me names mainly because of my hearing aid and the way I talked. I remembered thinking, “What have I done wrong?”

Not only did I have trouble fitting in, but I also had difficulty reading the clock, counting money and reading. Although I was gregarious and acted as a happy-go-lucky kid, I actually thought of myself as an ugly bucktooth kid with wires that ran from the hearing aid box to my ears. Other parents didn’t want me to hang around their kids fearing that my deafness would rub off on them. How absurd was that!?!?

Because of my academic struggles, I was fast on my way to being held back in fourth grade. Teachers didn’t know what to do with me.

But then fate intervened.

I was allowed to pass, making the way for my fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Jordan, to make a grand entrance into my life.

She uttered a simple three-word phrase that was delivered at the right time in just the right way, forever changing my life.

To be continued......
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Blogger ME Strauss said...

Dear Stephen,
I always liked the kids who were different. They were always more interesting. Their stories were always more compelling . . . it just seemed like no one took the time to listen.

5:33 AM  
Blogger Stephen J. Hopson said...

Hey there Liz!

Thanks for stopping by. You're right, kids who are different tend to be of most interesting characters, often teaching us something valuable (love, tolerance, acceptance, authencity, etc).

Listening is a very powerful skill - if we all took the time to listen with our hearts, we'd all be in a better place.

Thanks for stopping by!


5:46 AM  

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