Friday, August 31, 2007


David and I met over 10 years ago when we were two struggling students attending community college. He had transferred from another junior college after failing there miserably, and I had dropped out of my senior year of high school two years earlier. I was entering my third year of college with nothing to show for. I routinely withdrew from courses in order to avoid receiving permanent F’s on my record. We were hoping that a change of environment and the prospect of a new year would provide us a fresh start.

David once mentioned to me that he had difficulty learning in school, but I did not know the extent of his learning disability at the time. Many years later I learned that he has an auditory processing problem that made it challenging for him to comprehend a lecture and write down notes at the same time. People with this condition commonly have difficulty identifying the speaker or relevant message in the presence of background distraction. They often do not recognize subtle differences between sounds in words, even though the sounds themselves are loud and clear. For example, if I were to ask a person with auditory processing problem to “Tell me how a couch and a chair are alike”, he or she may understand it to say, “Tell me how a cow and a hair are alike”. Because they have difficulty carrying out multi-step directions given orally, they appear to have poor listening skills to an untrained observer. Part of the reason I and many other people were not keenly aware of his condition was that David never openly used it as an excuse or a crutch for what he could not do. Instead, he focused on what he can do.

Whenever confronted with a problem, there are only so many ways to deal with it. You could decide to turn around and give up or you could think of ways to run through it, around it, under it, or over it. You could say that he did a little bit of everything but walking away. He enrolled himself into a program that taught him how to use various strategies to cope and learn more effectively. He searched for mentors who offered him guidance and words of encouragement. He also did it by sheer will and determination. David and I were enrolled in the same math class, and we regularly studied together. What I remember most about my experience is that he never gave up on solving a problem that he did not immediately understand. If he did not succeed in his first attempt, he would try to see the problem from a different angle. If that didn't work, he would try it another way. David also had the courage to admit what he doesn't know. He was that one student who asked the questions that the rest of class was too embarrassed to ask for fear of appearing dumb.

It has been a long road for both of us. With a lot of struggle and hard work, we are humbled by the fact that we were the first in our families to earn a college degree. As for me... not bad for a kid who was once told by a college academic counselor of all people that "Some people are meant for school and others are meant to become a trash man." I am pursuing my Master's degree and multiple-subjects credential, and I hope to be teaching somewhere next year. As for David, he continues to be an inspiration for many others. For the past eight years, he worked as an academic counselor at a public high school in the Bay area. He went back to school two years ago and earned his single-subject credential in Social Studies. His goal is to teach at a local continuation school where he can impart his knowledge and experience to guide students in the right direction. His students are going to be very lucky to have a teacher like him. He demonstrates by living example how far a person can reach if they have the desire and the determination to overcome their challenge.

Thank you, Dave, for allowing me to share your story.

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Slices said...

This is a great story, and I can definitely relate with it! School systems troughout the world are cold, harsh and suffocating, which is too bad! College should be about learning how to think. If you really become a teacher, I urge not to forget your own life story, and try to really be commited to helping your students.

Claire said...

Great post and inspirational too.

I am training to be a counsellor at the moment, after a few ups and downs.

Lordmanilastone said...

this is really heartwarming, i am feeling so emotional now, this is such an inspiration, how i wish i could also pursue my studies,there are six children in my family and none of us has had a degree, ...