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Personal Stories

I Made It!

By: Sandra Westall
Sandra Westall

Most of my life I heard parents, grandparents, teachers, friends, neighbors, doctors, professionals, and professors, etc. telling me I'm lazy, stupid, can't go to college, dumb, pest, mentally retarded, will have to be taken care of all my life, need to change my ideas of becoming anything.

The words I heard the most was "you can't do it". When I heard those words and all of the negative feedback I would simply change to a positive attitude. I always believed I could do anything if I put my mind to it. The words determination and perseverance has been my success.

My name is Sandra Thornton Westall. I graduated from High School at second grade reading level. I went to college. How? I was going to college to be a teacher (determination). I had a boyfriend who was on the other end of the spectrum (genius). He helped me get to college by tutoring me through my senior year. There was only one college in the US who had accepted me: a two year all girls college with only 200 students. At this time in my life I needed this small instructional classroom. It took me three years to finish the two year college and received an Associate in Science Degree (Interior Decorator). The amazing thing about this story is I never could read any college books during the years I was in college. I had a classmate tape my texts books.

This part of my life was where a turning point of importance began because I was getting married, living in a small town, and substitute teaching. I found out for the first time at the age 27, that I was dyslexic and had many learning problems. This discovery came when a student was taken out of the class every other day to be tutored in a phonic program his mother was teaching. I asked about the program. She gave me different things to read. The only book that had been written about dyslexia was called "The Shadow Children". It was easy reading and when I got through with the book I said it was written about me. I was so excited that I found out why I couldn't read and why there was so many things I couldn't do. From that moment on I was learning about myself and ways I could learn.

Seven years later I had two boys (two years apart) who both have learning disabilities.

The next part of my life was a continuous battle to prove that I was going to be the best teacher for teaching special needs children. I was going back to college and get a BS in education. I thought I should teach learning disabled people like me.

How did I get into college with a low grade average? There was a small four year college north of the small town where I was living, who started a "Continual Education Program" for adults who work during the day. I was accepted into the program on probation for one year. I took tests in reading, writing, and math. I failed all the tests they gave me. They put me into a reading, writing, and math lab. Now, to graduate from this college I had to have five courses in English, three courses in History, three courses in math (algebra, trig, geometry), three courses in statistics, logic, probability, and all the education courses in early childhood education.

I went to many labs and worked with anyone who would help me, (teacher, friends, and a boss where I worked), Hours driving, hours studying, hours working, and hours being a mother. At the end of three years and three summers, they said I will receive a BS degree in early childhood education with no certification to be a teacher. They said I could not pass the National Teacher Exam. I wrote to the National Teacher testing place to ask them if I could have the exam read to me and extra time to take it. YES! I was the first LD person to take the exam that way. Did I pass it? I missed by six points and graduated with a 2.9 average.

What did I do next? I still couldn't teach. I entered an average university on the south side of my town by taking two LD courses to see what I could do. I did great! So I took the GRE (Graduate entry exam) and passed it to get into graduate school. I was the first LD to take GRE with a reader and the first LD to be accepted into the graduate program at this university. The seven years I was at this university was a story within itself. But I got my master in LD and special Education, I received my certification (after taking the National Teacher exam eight times), and had a grade average 3.8.

The next part of my life was to becoming a successful teacher. The state and area that I was living in made it very hard for me because every educator knew I was LD and there was no believing in me and no support. While I was in this state I taught six years teaching many different handicapped in many different settings. When the time was right, I pack my bags when there was an offer to teach SLD high school students in the biggest high school in Florida.

The only big hurdles I had to climb while I have been in Florida were the tests you had to take to become a teacher. They wouldn't let me take the test with a reader and had two years to complete them. First I had to get an extension on my temporary teaching certificate for two more years. Then I had to get a reader for my test. I took many, many tests before they would give me a reader. The story is long but after four years, many classes of tutoring, hours of studying and many hours worrying if I was going to be a teacher in Florida. It was great victory for me.

Then I decided to go to an inner-city school where I taught SLD 4th, 5th, and 6th grade for three years. I was very successful teaching in this town. I am now teaching SED self contained pilot program in an Elementary school.

I made it! I have become a good teacher! I have lectured around the world, I have given many workshops for teachers and parents, I have tutored very special children from all over the US, I have been on a board for advocating for special need students, Help LD adults to find their way to college, I have been a pioneer for LD students to be successful in college, and now I have two more masters in Emotional Handicapped and ESOL [English as a Second Language]. Most of all I brought my own children through their many hurdles of learning problems and [they] have been successful in what they are doing.

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