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Her (Success) Story: My Struggle With Academics

Throughout my middle school and high school experience, I struggled to learn from many educators who taught students only one particular strategy to approach problems with. This proved difficult, for me especially. As a student, I don't always benefit from traditional teaching styles. From the fourth grade through the beginning of high school, I would be up until all hours of the night trying to complete my homework. I didn't understand why it took me so long to complete my work, or why it seemed to take my classmates less than half as long as it took me. While my older brother was able to go over to his friends' houses to hang out until dinner time every day after school, I was stuck at home frantically trying to complete my schoolwork. I wanted more than anything to be able to see my friends after school, but it just didn't seem possible because I would never have enough time to finish everything. I was angry. I was frustrated. I was lonely.

I have always been a strong-willed student. While many things didn't seem to come naturally to me, I had faith in myself and persevered. While my grades didn't seem to show it, I knew I was a smart girl and just needed a little direction.

After being diagnosed with a learning disability in the eighth grade, I began attending sessions at the Research Institute for Learning and Development (ResearchILD), a not-for-profit organization devoted to helping all students become successful learners. It was here that I was paired with the learning specialist who changed my life. This learning specialist was such an inspiration to me and taught me numerous strategies to use for note-taking, problem-solving, managing time, and organizing essays. After learning new ways to approach my difficulties, I decided to dedicate my time to using these skills in order to become a more efficient and organized student

The new strategies I learned were helpful for not one, but every course I was taking. As acknowledgement of my determination, persistence, and resilience in academics, I received the Drive to Thrive Award from the Research Institute of Learning and Development, showing that many students, like myself, need material presented to them in several forms in order for them to grasp a better understanding of it and to succeed. Since my time studying at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, I have been able to apply each of these strategies to my schoolwork and, over the past two years, have received nothing short of an A!

In his writings, Dr. Robert Brooks, one of today’s leading speakers and authors on the topic of motivation, resilience, and the important qualities of effective leaders, mentions the idea of a “charismatic” teacher. He says that “charismatic” teachers are those who “possess expertise in their subject areas but they also appreciate that if students are to learn from them, they must touch their hearts as well as their minds” (Brooks 2000). My learning specialist at the Research Institute for Learning and Development concentrated on my strengths, using my strengths to help me overcome my weaknesses. She showed such compassion for me and consistently encouraged me in all that I did, both academically and socially. Most importantly, she was relatable, making me feel comfortable and allowing me to form a strong bond with her. In my opinion, she showed the qualities that every teacher should have!

Ever since attending sessions at ResearchILD, it has been my goal to become this kind of “charismatic” teacher for my own students. I know that there are so many other students like myself, who don't always benefit from traditional teaching styles. As a result of this, I feel as though I have a strong advantage in that I would be able to relate to many of my students in a way that many of their other teachers have not been able to do. It is my greatest hope that I am able to redirect struggling students, put them on the right track, and save them from the years of hardship that I had to endure. Next year, I will be attending graduate school, working toward my Master's degree in Elementary Education so that I can make my dream into a reality. I can't wait to change the lives of other students, like my learning specialist was able to do for me!

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Diana Weinstein

U Mass Amherst

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