I often get asked why I want to teach, so here is the personal essay that got me into grad school:
My life has led me to be a teacher. At three, I was diagnosed with learning difficulties; later my parents learned I had ADHD. My childhood was filled with specialists, special schools, medication, and therapies. I had problems with speech, concentration, behavior, organization, and writing. In all of my classes, I struggled. Most of my academic career was in private schools for learning disabled students. It took me almost two decades to overcome these issues. I know how vital it is for students to have good teachers. That is why I want to teach. I want to help students, like myself, so they will not have to struggle as much as I did.
Most of my difficulties and talents lay in direct opposition to each other. I knew how to be organized; I just couldn’t get myself to do it. Self expression was never a problem, thoughts and ideas would come to me all the time, but when I had to write them down, I didn’t know how to. Though I knew how to behave properly in class, I could never master my own impulses. My mind was often hijacked by some idea that needed voicing, or some object that needed to be fiddled with. I was trapped within my own brain.
In spite of these challenges, I am very bright. If not for my learning issues, I would have attended a gifted program. Because the ideas in class were too simple, I was always bored and frustrated. Until the tenth grade, most of what I learned in science classes, I already knew from my own reading, or from having flipped through textbooks while bored in class.
The hard things were easy, the easy things-hard. I became very frustrated. No one else seemed to have my experiences. And I was told there were no other schools that could take me. I was fortunate to have parents who advocated for my needs without hesitation and always provided any special help I required. I did not know how unique my situation was until I was ten, when my mother became a teacher. She taught at transfer high schools in the Bronx and later in Manhattan. She told me how her students were like me, but having never received the help I did. All of her students were poor, most came from bad neighborhoods, and many of them had problems at home that I never had. If I were born to a family in a different neighborhood, I could be just like one of my mother’s students, under prepared for the Regents and college. That is a terrible injustice. That’s when I first wanted to be a teacher.
I spent years mindful of how classes were put together. In elementary school, I began to see the deeper structure of the lessons: why we had to do certain tasks, or why a lesson unfolded as it did. I’d see my classmates having difficulty mastering the material that came easily to me, and I thought, “How would they need to hear it?” I began teasing apart the various layers of comprehension, seeing where my peers got stuck. And when I would help them with assignments, I saw my perceptions were right.
I received an Associates Degree at Landmark College, a two-year college exclusively for learning disabled students. It changed my life. Landmark taught me how to write. Before Landmark, my essays were rushed first drafts. In frustration, I would jot down my ideas and clumsily piece them together. I was always lauded for the sharpness of my insight, but my essays were littered with poor punctuation and non-sequiturs. Landmark taught me how to brainstorm, how to outline, and how to draft to compose a solid paper. I learned the ins and outs of sentence mechanics. I finally had a written voice as mellifluous and nuanced as my thoughts. I learned the organizational techniques I use to this day. How to organize a binder, how to organize my day, or month, Landmark put the chaos into order.
Landmark professors were masters at crafting lessons, and I observed them intently. I saw the classroom from both the teachers’ and the students’ perspective. I learned very clearly the ways students struggle in class. Landmark changed the way I see all schooling. I would not be applying to this program were it not for my time there.
After graduating with an Associates Degree, I went to Brandeis University, where I graduated with a degree in Psychology. Brandeis taught me much about myself. I was surrounded by people who were as smart as I am, and smarter. But I still had difficulty getting the work done. After awhile, I realized the problem was not my difficulties organizing my ideas, my materials, or my time. The problem was my fear. I was terrified to apply myself. I never had to do it before, and I was afraid I would fail.
I know school inside and out. I’ve struggled with things that came easily for my other classmates. I despaired over classes that I felt were too simple. I know how embarrassing it is to have amazing ideas and to have no way to put them into action. Those moments require kindness, compassion, and patience from a teacher; I know how to give that, because I that is what I needed.
The most important thing I want to give my students is confidence in the face of what is hard. Most of my life I was terrified to reach my potential. That caused me more challenges than all of my problems with writing, concentrating, behaving, or organizing. I was intimidated by my opposing talents and challenges. I did not want to push myself, afraid of uncovering more flaws.
I have always valued learning; it has been and will be my favorite thing. To learn a new idea, or to see it in a new light, gives me exquisite joy. I cannot expect to make my students mirrors of my enthusiasm, but I can inspire them with my own. I believe that nothing is impossible, which many of my struggling schoolmates and my younger self would have found hard to believe.
My greatest accomplishment is success in spite of my difficulties. When I was little, I had problems with speaking, writing, concentrating, behaving, and coordinated movement. Now, I rarely find difficulty expressing myself; I enjoy writing; I graduated from a top university; I get along well with others; and I love to dance. I am proof that no one is unable to learn, to heal, and to become something better, whole. Despite my desires to quit, I have always moved ahead. I am most proud that anyone who meets me today would never know how difficult my life was as a child, unless I told them myself.
I am an intelligent, patient, insightful person who has struggled all his life with learning disabilities. I want to help the kids who cannot afford the private schools I attended, the kids who did not have the parents, like mine, who supported me and who fought for the public funding of my private education. I want to help these students see they can overcome their difficulties. I want my students to learn from my lessons, to make them stronger, more confident people. Just because a child has challenges does not mean they should be prevented from reaching their full potential. I am proof.