Dear Math Teacher,
You asked me: “Why are you in this class? You must have other subjects you are good at. Why are you taking my course when you are not a “math” student?
You seem offended that I did not take your advice in grade 11 when you suggested that I not take senior math. But, with all due respect sir, I learned early on not to pay a lot of attention to what people said I could not do.
When I was really young I could not talk and I was afraid of everything. I screamed and cried a lot. My parents learned that I had severe autism and that many things would be very hard for me: speaking, reading, writing, math, interacting with others, showing empathy, and even taking care of myself.
My parents loved me enough to get me good doctors and great therapists. They practiced all my new skills with me and loved me when I was hard to love. I was expected to practice my skills, to never stop trying and to never let my autism define me.
My teachers saw my strengths and worked with me to develop my weaknesses. They taught me to think for myself, ask for help and never give up when learning was hard. The kids in my class were patient with me. They allowed me to be who I am. I learned how to be a friend because the kids never gave up on me.
I learned to talk, read, write, and develop good friendships. I learned to take care of myself and others. I swam competitively for 6 years despite the fact that I spent the first years of swim lessons refusing to put my body in the pool. I play in two music bands despite the fact that I could never learn music theory. I have won awards for sportsmanship and leadership despite the fact that I was socially detached from people when I was young.
I am in grade 12 now. I am well on my way to graduating from high school and going to prom with a beautiful girl. I will go to university. I still have autism.
But it did not define me.
I would appreciate it if you would show me the respect of not defining what I can or cannot do. Do not make assumptions based on what you think you know about me. I ask that you consider building relationships with your students with those who are not ‘math kids’ rather than seeing them as an annoyance to your course. You insist we come for help but your judgments of us deny us a safe place to ask questions and admit our weakness.
I worked hard to earn my credit in math. After school I learn with a different math teacher who assures me that I am in fact capable of doing math. He takes the time to examine my ways of thinking and to teach from my strengths. He is patient, warm and I trust him. I work with students who are willing to look beyond my ‘inability’ and actually find my ability to think mathematically.
I will not be choosing to study math in university. I know that my strengths lie in other areas. But, as I graduate from high school I am proud that I ignored your ignorant, humiliating and demeaning comments. I may not have earned a high average but I passed and I DID learn the skills I was taught to the best of my ability. I can leave high school with the confidence of knowing that I didn’t quit when I was told it would be wise to do so.
Your tenacious student