By: Conor Pierson
“He’ll never catch up.” Those words were said sixteen years ago by one of my teachers to my father. I was at a very low point in my life, questioning whether I was following the right path. I’ve spent the majority of my life with anxiety and depression and it came to a head that night my father and I talked. It’s a constant up and down where you’re battling yourself for some peace and quiet. My biggest critic was myself, until that night. My father saw the anguish in my face and told me what my teacher had told him sixteen years ago, in hopes of lifting me up.
I was diagnosed with Dyslexia at the age five, very early on in life. You’d think that’s great, that they could intervene and build me up even earlier. Well, one of my teachers didn’t think so. I was behind the rest of my class in a lot of aspects and my father, always the optimist, asked my teacher when I would finally be caught up with my class.
Her response? “He’ll never catch up.”
No positive affirmation that I’d be on my way and achieve success at some point. In her mind, Dyslexia was a sentence to being subpar. She expected I’d be lucky to graduate high school and find a job, and those expectations were hurtful to my family and my father. We promptly moved to find a better life for me.
My family found a school specifically for students with learning differences, Woodlynde School. I finally felt at home. At Woodlynde they cared for me and cared about my success. I spent thirteen years of my life there and I regret none of them. Woodlynde was and still is serving students with learning differences and I’m forever grateful for their work with me and many other children.
I graduated and moved on to Bucknell University in order to become a teacher. A short four years later I was on to graduate school at Teachers College at Columbia University, THE school for education and the school that was and is instrumental in special education.
So, to the teacher who said I’d never catch up, I happily say, you were right. I didn’t catch up… I excelled. I moved forward. I succeeded despite you. I succeeded because of teachers that weren’t you.
I’m not the exception though. I am the rule. Every video you see on Facebook of a child who succeeds despite having a disability or a learning difference isn’t the exception. They are the rule.
With my teaching career, I will work to shift our societal thought so that children with disabilities aren’t looked at apathetically but as equals — people who can contribute and become citizens with voices that are heard. I’m not the feel good story, I will be the story you hear countless times. I’m not going to stop fighting until you are overwhelmed with stories of success and the minority opinion is that of my former teacher.
We won’t just catch up, we will excel and prove that we are every bit as capable.
Conor is currently attending Columbia’s Teachers College to be certified in teaching children with ID/Autism. He was diagnosed with Dyslexia in 1st grade and his goal is to become an advocate for students with special needs just like his school and family were for him. Along with special education he wants to advocate for the destigmatization of mental illness.