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Who knew four words could have such a profound effect on my mind? It seems as though Joel Osteen was right when he said, "Be careful what you say. You can say something hurtful in ten seconds, but ten years later, the wounds are still there."

In pre-k I never took naps. During nap time I either talked to my friend Riley, talked to myself, or got up and walked around. My teacher told my mom this was a disturbance. My mother suggested things I could do during nap time: color, help organize the classroom, or run errands. My teacher refused. This made me want to explain my inability to take naps, and my willingness to avoid laying in a dark room on a cold mat, staring at a blank ceiling. Instead, I stayed quiet, went off into the corner, and frequently got in trouble for making the same “mistakes.”

I was ready for the changes kindergarten would bring. Although some of these changes were good, others, not so much. One change included a color-coded behavior system, shamefully displayed in front of the whole class, involving green for good, yellow for misbehaving/warning, and red for in trouble – no recess. Each morning would start with everyone on green, but as the day progressed, some names would be moved to either yellow or red. My name would be consistently moved from green to yellow, and sometimes from yellow to red before naptime. This made me enraged and confused about having a displayed behavior system, embarrassed for having my name moved, and frustrated by why I couldn’t stay on green.

During first grade, children began reading on their own. This caused me anxiety because I have a tendency to lose my words. I would forget the names of objects, of people, of events. My mom and I would practice reading, writing, and working on class assignments. I did really well when it was the two of us, but when I was off on my own or was asked to read in front of the class, I got flustered. While reading, I had an urge to read perfectly or I would, somehow, fail. I felt put on display and set up for humiliation because I had poor reading skills.

As the years progressed, my parents and I constantly tried to figure out why I was struggling in school. Finally, in fifth grade I was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, the inattentive type. ADHD is like having your brain run a marathon’s worth of topics while you’re sitting still, thinking of what to say. ADHD symptoms include having trouble focusing on school work, losing track of time easily, and struggling with deciding which tasks are most important. I don’t remember exactly how I felt about having ADHD, but I do remember feeling nervous about taking medication.

One night, when I was twelve, I was sitting at the dinner table with my family and my mom was talking about a time she had a conference with my first grade teacher. They often had disagreements about my schoolwork. My teacher told her, “Maybe this is her best. Maybe she just isn't that bright.” My mom quickly countered with, “Have you ever had a conversation with her?” This story made me feel rattled and hurt that my teacher would think this about me. It made me reflect on the need for competition and the unwelcoming atmosphere at my elementary school.

Today I have a 4.1 GPA and am currently taking college courses while in high school. Though I hold no anger toward my teacher today, at that moment, I felt disdain about what she said about me. I hope that she, and many more teachers, educate themselves about conditions like ADHD, autism, dyslexia, bipolar disorder, etc. in order to make their students feel more welcome and not out of place in their classes.

© Molly O'Shea. All rights reserved. If you are interested in quoting this story, contact the national team and we can put you in touch with the author’s teacher.