Postsecondary Education

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Joined: Aug 10, 2009
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Posted Aug 10, 2009 at 4:11:14 PM
Subject: New to the forum

Hi guys,

I just spent the past few hours writing about my disability just to vent. I didn't feel any better afterwards and that's when I stumbled upon this forum. I don't really know what to do anymore in regards to math. I'm pretty much just ready to give up because it is destroying my whole life. I hate that I think this way, but after 24 years of dealing with it I'm out of resources.

This is a really long post and I'm very sorry, but my relationship with math is a long one. Any feedback would be great.

When I was diagnosed with my learning disability I thought two things: one, it wasnít my fault; two, complete sadness. Part of me felt relief in that it wasnít something that I could necessarily control. It was in this lack of control and knowing there was a reason why I couldnít perform that I unraveled.

Even before high school there were signs that I was struggling with math. I remember sitting in the living room floor drilling multiplication flash cards for hours, but you would have never guessed it by my math grades. Still, no red flags were raised; no teachers took notice. In ninth grade it became apparent that I wasnít very good at math. When I brought home that first D I immediately blamed myself. Try harder, work harder, was my motto. In those four years of high school I failed geometry, brought home Dís in almost every math and science that involved numbers, and scored a resounding 310 on my math SAT. Still, no teacher said a word; no one reached out to console. I was a driven student Ė I wanted to succeed. My dream was to join the honor societies, but because of math those would never come true. I was a good student in all other arenas of education, but that didnít matter. In high school I had a total of seven tutors Ö one of whom said they just couldnít help me. My junior year of high school I went to the Sylvan Learning Center and was placed in a group of elementary school students to learn fractions. I was told by them that I had a ďmental blockĒ concerning math. That was probably my low point Ė here I was, seventeen years old, sacrificing my Saturday mornings to understand math, put in a group with elementary school students who continually performed better than I. Still, no one put up any red flags. I was determined to do the best I could on my SAT, so I enrolled in a college class that taught basic math. On top of my regular high school classes I would ride out to the local community college two nights a week to take that class Ö and then my 310 rolled in. I took the SAT again and received approximately the same result. I even took the ACT to better balance myself. Looking back on my high school experience I can picture myself leaving math class, directly finding the nearest rest room, and sobbing uncontrollably. What I would have given to understand math. Most girls were crying over boyfriends, but I shed tears over word problems.

When I graduated high school I was mentally beaten. I didnít know what I wanted. I was so exhausted from the struggle. I never once stopped blaming myself for my incompetence in math. My mom, on the other hand, wanted me to get tested for a learning disability in high school, but I told her no. I was not stupid. I would not get tested. I knew that I could do this. The day of redemption never came. I was accepted at VCU conditionally because of my math SAT score. I was enrolled into the most basic math that you could take. The lectures were like watching a movie on fast forward and the lab was like being pulled under by a giant current in the ocean. My academic advisor noticed my struggles and suggested that I get tested for a learning disability. At this point, I was ready to give up. I was tired of trying. I could no longer look at myself in the mirror and say, ďyou can do thisĒ in regards to math. I reluctantly agreed to test for a learning disability. The psychologist had me go through hours of IQ tests, specialized tests Ė the kind of tests where you had to fit shapes into holes, look at pictures, reason. I went into the Westwood Group wanting to do well, to prove to myself that even though I struggled I wasnít completely hopeless. Then, the results came back: severe learning disability in math. I was numb. Part of me wanted to jump in jubilee because it wasnít my fault; I had spent so much energy blaming myself and pushing myself and for what? But mostly I was immensely sad. I would never get to experience the gratification of succeeding at math. It would be my constant enemy in life. The psychologist gave me hope. He told me that it was a documented learning disability and that people and schools would understand and work with me and nurture me. Finding out I had a learning disability was the darkest moment of my life. I gave up on everything. Knowing I had a learning disability made me stupid. I gave up on myself and withdrew from my classes from VCU. Those six withdrawals would haunt me later.

My mom refused to accept the fact that I was quitting. She told me that I had to go to college and made me enroll at a community college. I didnít care about anything at that point. I hated myself so much for not being smart that I gave up. I failed those early classes and have at least four Fís that ride on my transcript everywhere that I go. After failing community college I started working. I was going through something really big internally Ė trying to process what it meant to live with something as colossal as a learning disability. It might not seem like much, but it meant the world to me because I had spent so much emotion and energy for nothing; I had wanted so badly to understand math, but would never. My identity up to that point was the struggle to conquer math, but when he handed me the test results math ruthlessly conquered me. For whatever reason I decided if I wasnít going to school I needed to be doing something good, so I started working as a nurse aide at a nursing home. Iím thankful for my years there because my residents helped me grow as a person. They taught me things as I took care of them. They taught me to believe in myself. As I grew older my relationship with math started to transform to a more healthy and multi-dimensional one. I accepted the fact that I did indeed have a math learning disability and that it would never leave me. I would have to come up with ways to function with it. I started to focus on what I was good at Ė history, science, literature. Once I did that everything fell right into place. I fell in love with the study of evolution. It became my biggest passion in my life. I spent so much time reading about anthropology and history that I realized I needed to go back to school because it was who I was. Back in 2003 I was looking at things from a negative perspective; I thought that math meant the world and if I didnít get it what was I worth? Now, I realized that I didnít have to be perfect to be an educated person; I didnít have to prove myself in every subject to be worthy of an education. Knowing this empowered me and pushed me forward.

I enrolled at J. Sergeant Reynolds with a new motto: do your best. I excelled exceptionally in all my classes. Still, there was one class I had yet to tackle: math. I went to the accommodations office at my school and submitted my learning disability. The psychologist had written in his conclusion that I could not be expected to pass a college level math course. The woman looked at me and said ďwell, that doesnít mean you canít take the pre-college level math coursesĒ and placed me in Math 03. This moment made me realize that even though I had gone through that testing math would still be something I would have to face. I went into Math 03 hoping for the best, but realizing very quickly that it was the same thing Ė I couldnít perform. My original goal going into J. Sargeant Reynolds was to get my 2 years associates degree and transfer to a 4 year university. At the end of my two year journey I had two things to show for myself: a 3.8 GPA and a bunch of withdrawals from math where I just couldnít keep up. I couldnít even pass the non-credit math courses. I was stuck. They were requiring me to take these math courses and I couldnít pass them. Still, I had most of my classes finished and I had to continue pushing forward.

I knew I was ready to apply to VCU again. My two years at J. Sargeant Reynolds gave birth to my love of history and anthropology. I am so passionate about these subjects that I spend the better part of my day reading all I can about them in journals. Applying to VCU again was a very big decision. I had been there in 2003 and withdrew from my classes ďdue to medical reasonsĒ being the learning disability. I didnít want to disappoint myself again, and I especially didnít want VCU to take a chance on me if I wasnít ready. Fortunately, I was extremely ready. I wrote my entrance essay and explained my struggle with math and how if they took a chance on me again I would not let them down. I spent the next few weeks checking the mailbox in anticipation. Then the day came when I got the acceptance package. I was so excited! That package was more than just college Ö it was an affirmation that I was worth giving a second chance to. I knew that I wouldnít let them down. I was ready to take on college and my future and I wouldnít let math stop me.

My first semester at VCU I stayed away from any math courses. I wanted to make sure that I talked to the accommodations center first and explained to them that I couldnít perform in math. Getting an appointment to actually speak with someone was like pulling teeth; they would rather me submit my paperwork and wait. I did just that. A few weeks later I was told to pick up my letters from their office. I had no idea what they were referring to, but when I received them I realized that they would expect me to take college level math here. They would only offer me more time on tests and official recognition of my learning disability for the instructor. Again, defeat. I decided to focus on my other courses. I received 3 Aís and 1 B my first semester. At the end of that semester I knew I was where I should be. Being at VCU reignited a spark for education. I wanted my degree so bad that I could feel it. I knew eventually a battle would come again between me and math, but in the time being I would focus on the positives in my life: history and anthropology. These two subjects became the driving force behind the success of every class I took. Every time I got tired I would tell myself that in the end I would have the knowledge Iíve been dreaming of.

My summer has been spent eagerly waiting the new semester. Iíve been so excited about my classes! I couldnít wait to go back to school shopping for notebooks; Iíve been patient about receiving financial aid to buy text books. I was fortunate to receive an anthropology text book early from a professor and have been reading that over the summer in anticipation for the class. I am a driven student. A few weeks ago I went on e-services just to check over my schedule and to make sure everything looked good for this fall when I noticed something in my financial aid that said I was not making satisfactory progress. I called the financial aid department and they informed me that my financial aid was being revoked because I had taken too many credit hours without progress. Suddenly, my past rolls in to smack me in the face one more time. The 6 withdrawals from VCU and the few failed classes from J. Sergeant Reynolds from 2003 were back again to roar their ugly heads. Because of those failures in 2003 which resulted from me learning that my whole world had changed because of the learning disability I was being refused the education that I wanted so badly now. I was told to appeal the decision, so I submitted my SAP appeal and Iím still waiting for word. School starts in a week and I canít even be excited. I want so badly to hop to Office Max to buy my notebooks and my hi-lighters, but I canít. I want to look forward to my classes, but I canít. I donít even know if Iíll be in school.

So, here I am. Iím nervously waiting for a reply from my school, but like most universities they are overwhelmed with students and things take time. I donít know whatís going to happen to me or my future. If I donít receive the financial aid Iím not exactly sure what Iíll do. I have worked so hard to prove myself outside of math Ö I have done so well and gotten so close to have it revoked.

I want to be an adult with a learning disability that can confidently tell a child who also struggles that it will be okay. I donít think itís fair that my disability is often perceived as not being taught correctly. So many times as I confess this to someone they want to help me, show me that I can do math. I canít tell you how many times I have gone to an accommodations center to talk about my disability and been shown how to count numbers in an ďeasierĒ manner. Even my own fiancť who, ironically enough, is a mechanical engineer tries to show me ways, but ultimately becomes frustrated with my inability to comprehend and understand. Some will say that I am too emotional in regards to math and my response is you are absolutely right. After years of failure, years of trying to express my frustration, years of being left behind, years of being not heard, I have become emotional.

Right now math is winning.

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