I Might Take a Little Longer : Cheyenne's Story
Guest post by Cheyenne Ossen Erickson
The Fourth-Grade reading groups were color coded, and seemingly random. After a few days of observing I had figured it out: Blue Group was the top of the class, Red Group was the middle of the class, and Green Group was the bottom of the class. I was assigned to Green Group. For a competitive, prideful, nine-year-old this was devastating. I asked my teacher if there was a way I could move into Blue Group. He told me I could work my way up the reading groups, but I would have to work very hard.
Many people with a learning disability, such as Dyslexia, can share a very similar story. I was diagnosed with Dyslexia when I was seven. I struggle with keeping my eyes focused on the same sentence, inverting letters and numbers, and spelling. For a year I went to eye therapy until I was “fixed.” I used to feel like a failure at school and wanted nothing to do with my homework. There have been two shifts in my life that have changed my perceptive on what I could achieve as a person with a learning disability. I’ve learned that I am capable of accomplishing anything-- it might just take me a little longer.
The first change that encouraged me to have confidence in my academic abilities was joining speech and debate in high school. For the first time I was around peers who were academically driven. Did I mention I am an incredibly competitive person? I wanted to be as good or better than my peers at debate, school work, and team leadership. I was challenged to read difficult material like Supreme Court cases, speed read the news, and perfect reading out-loud. My peers had a passion for excellence in academics and it spread to me. I realized that if I took the time and effort I could be just as good as they were. This same passion to be an excellent carried me into college.
Freshman year, I approached all my professors to tell them about my Dyslexia. I didn’t really have a goal when telling them this. I was not seeking accommodations, I just didn’t want them to expect too much of me in case I failed. I loved college and did very well in all my classes. My roommates joked that I never slept, and everyone thought I over studied. It wasn’t that I was trying to over study, homework just took me forever to finish. I struggled most with in-class essay writing for tests because there was no spell check. Without spell check I was simply a mortal, ready to be struck dead by the red pen.
It was not until my Junior year of college that I had a collision with my Dyslexia. Just like every college student, I had changed my major several times, and finally settled on being a Secondary Education teacher. To be admitted into the School of Education I had to pass an Eighth-Grade spelling test. I failed the spelling test. Not once, but twice. If I did not pass the third time I could not be part of the program. Minutes before the third test, I was reviewing my notes and decided to watch children’s phonics videos on YouTube. One of the videos demonstrated the difference between a short “e” and short “i”. That was my problem! When my professor would sound out the words during the test, I was not writing the correct vowel. I passed the final test and felt victorious. But that battle had cost me my pride. The professors in the department knew I struggled with the test; they had seen me cry, encouraged me, and celebrated my victory. But in my mind, I knew that they knew I couldn’t spell. It was like they had a peek past my squeaky-clean, spell checked, A+ persona and seen me.
It was my pursuit of teaching that changed my attitude towards my Dyslexia. I could not hide my spelling errors on a white board in front of my class. I also discovered that many of my students struggled the same way I did. I wanted them to know that I could empathize with their plight. So, I told them the truth. I am Dyslexic. I challenged my students to try to catch and correct my spelling errors. By being honest and confident in my weakness my students who struggled could have a role-model. I wanted them to know that if they wanted to, they could love learning as much as I did.
Way back in Fourth-Grade, I eventually made it to Blue Group. It was a lot of work, but I achieved my goal. Throughout my academic career, I have had triumphs and challenges with reading and writing. I discovered the key to working with my Dyslexia is being patient with myself. I still struggle with my learning disability every day. I have sloppy handwriting to cover over spelling mistakes, I take forever to text, and I am a very slow reader. But I am not ashamed of my Dyslexia anymore. I know I can do anything-- it just might take me a little longer.