“A mentor is someone that allows you to see the hope inside yourself.” – Oprah Winfrey
I’m inspired and motivated to write this article to thank my K-12 educators, former supervisors and mentors as I believe it is important to recognize and thank individuals while you are able. Life can change fast and acknowledging those who have an impact on your life is so crucial.
PK-12 Educators: To my PK-12 classroom teachers, special education teachers, speech pathologists, thank you for being part of the top ranked school districts in Massachusetts. I was fortunate to be enrolled in early intervention where it was determined that I had a speech delay and that I had a Non-Verbal Learning Disability (NVLD).
Throughout my educational career at Winchester Public Schools (WPS), the educators wanted me to succeed in the least restrictive environment by providing support within the classroom so I could still be with my peers while making accommodations as necessary. Mrs. Faust learned in fifth grade when I was participating in the Wilson Reading Program that when she needed to get observed to get certified, to do the same lesson with me ahead of time as I did not enjoy when people observed me as I believed that they were grading me on my abilities rather than hers to teach the lesson.
In eighth grade, Mrs. Walker, Mr. Squeglia, Ms. Bixby and the other educators believed in me when receiving proficient in the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) exams was critical and they never let me think of the plan B if I didn’t pass MCAS my sophomore year of high school where then I would be unable to receive my high school diploma from my school district. I remember Mrs. Walker sharing with my parents that she could look at me in English class and could tell if I understood a concept or not because if I wasn’t understanding a concept the way she was explaining it, other students weren’t either. The educators wanted me to be enrolled in regular college prep courses during high school as my goal was to be in mainstream courses and had my eyes set on attending a four year higher education institution.
I believe that the educators in the public school district I attended made a significant difference in teaching me the tools to compensate for my LD all the while wanting me to succeed. The educators inspired me to go into education myself and celebrated with me when I tested out of specific education in February of my junior year of high school, after being on an IEP for 14.5 years. I truly believe that without the wonderful, hardworking, dedicated, passionate educators in the school district I attended, I would not be where I am today.
Mary D.: Thank you and Jovan for providing me the opportunity to lead the ambassadors during the end of my junior year and senior semester. Thank you for your encouragement at 4:30pm on that day when I dropped by the office after my internship to discuss the final details of the open house the following morning and for you instructing me to text you the outcome of my teaching licensure exam score while reminding me to grab some of the green Italian cookies that were on the top of the filing cabinet to eat on my way home. How I can remember that there were green Italian cookies five years after the fact is a guess of mine as I couldn’t remember specifics of events in history. I ate those cookies, cried, completed the final preparations for the open house the next morning and cried some more as I processed that I was not eligible to student teach in Massachusetts as I did not pass the history Massachusetts Teachers Educators Licensure Exam (MTEL) for the fifth time. You checked in with me in the mist of all of us running the Admissions Open House the following day and continued to do so in the weeks to come as I figured out what was next.
You were that constant staff support I needed in those following weeks as I decided it was best for me to challenge myself and pursue my masters in higher education, something I had thought about pursuing prior to not passing the MTEL, not at Salem State so I could be challenged to grow in a new way. You taught me the admissions lingo of the definitions of the word “melt” and “admissions funnel” while I applied for full time admission counselor jobs.
I’m not sure when/how I even told you I had a learning disability. You challenged myself and the other Admissions Ambassadors to improve our public speaking by allowing us the opportunity to do the admissions presentation before tours which is a transferable skill beyond undergrad.
In the last five years, I appreciate your calls out of the blue to check in to see how I’m doing. I appreciate your bluntness and calling myself and others out in a polite way to push us to grow. As I officially embarked on my first professional position post grad school in August, you ended a wonderful career at your alma mater where you taught us to be “the face of Salem State” while you led the students in [through the admissions process] and led them out [as you were one of the line leaders at commencement].
Tina H.: Thank you for giving me an opportunity in which I found a supportive team, a community, and life long friends when you hired me on as one of your grads during the summer of 2017. After I spent four hours in your office learning the countless types of balloon arrangements, columns, trees, clusters and the countless others, meeting you in the office at 4:30am the morning of move in to set up, I knew I was starting to find my niche in Washington D.C. / northern Virginia. I was homesick my first year of graduate school, living 10 hours away from home and leaving a toxic environment at my previous graduate assistantship; it’s important to remember that most things happen for a reason.
Thank you for your kindness, humor, our 1:1s that turned into professional development conversations, for letting me be the servant leader I am, for learning that I’m an internal processor and that I write “long novels” for my weekly reports, and for your patience. You believe in supporting your staff anyway you can no matter when you were doing two Assistant Director jobs at once and with all the changes within the department of student affairs.
You encouraged and provided opportunities for me to grow, learn and help implement new ideas within the Department. I always appreciated and still do when you provide constructive feedback, input, and your perspective that makes me process internally for hours. You pushed me out of my comfort zone by challenging me, while knowing that sometimes you need to be uncomfortable to grow. I embraced knowing I am not perfect and wanted you to challenge me daily while I also tried to find projects I could work on to stay busy – even if that meant organizing the six Residence Life storage closets that hadn’t been cleaned in years.
Thank you for being a resource, a cheerleader and letting me process countless interviews while I was job searching. You encouraged me to reflect after interviews so I would know when the right thing came along. You provided guidelines, support, encouragement while reminding me that the perfect thing might come around the corner that is completely unknown. You encouraged me to channel my positivity when I was defining success as in having a job and to remember what I was learning as a result of feeling the pressure to land a job before graduation. You reminded me that it was so critical to enjoy commencement as it was no small accomplishment of graduating with my masters degree and that I should revel that. Tina, you reminded me that after I was denied what I thought was “my dream job” that it was important to live in the moment and that if I can’t predict the future, why should I allow it to painstakingly control my happiness.
Tina, you taught me that one evaluation is one person’s interpretation of you and was open to the fact that I am an internal processor. You encouraged me to reflect, journal and write out my five year plan to prepare me for life after grad school. While writing my five year plan you reminded me that writing my five year plan required me to think about what I wanted, even if we all know that what we want is likely to change or not happen the way we expected but thinking through where we may see ourselves does have impact. You taught me that I need to be better with being uncomfortable in “grey areas” including situations where there are few rules and areas that require more time to sort through. Through all of this, you constantly reminded me that things will fall into place and to be okay with the discomfort and the unknown for some time.
Tina, thank you for making my second year of graduate school filled with learning opportunities by allowing me to develop living learning communities, create so many assessment reports, for the every day adventures in the office and for being an individual that I could count on as I prepared for “life after grad school.” I am so fortunate to call you my former supervisor, mentor, knowing that as a result of letting me learn from you my second year of graduate school, I am a better student affairs professional because of you while also having so many bittersweet memories from my second year.
Family: Mom, Dad, Julie and my entire family. Thank you. Thank you for recognizing that I needed extra support as I was not talking at the age of two and for understanding how critical it was to invest in Julie and I’s education from an early age. We are thankful that we were able to attend public school in one of the best school districts in Massachusetts with passionate educators that had the resources to teach me the tools to succeed even though I had a learning disability.
You learned the language of being parents of a “SPED kid” with the help of Aunt Linda who was a resource as you navigate the public school system’s special education department and IEP meetings. You advocated for me in my IEP meetings even though when I was supposed to go to mine but I didn’t enjoy others talking about me when I was there. If only I was a fly on the wall to have heard those conversations. You advocated for me to be in mainstream classes and asked questions to seek clarification to ensure that the decisions that were being made would benefit me.
Through the many nights Dad helped me understand abstract concepts in math and science, Mom helped me create character charts to keep track of characters in a book I was reading for English. Both of you never gave up on me and for that I am forever grateful. You had the patience regardless of the amount of times you explained a concept to me and spent so many hours each night helping me understand homework and studying for exams. I always wanted to make you proud and I worked 110% for this to happen. I was determined that my LD wouldn’t define who I was and what I was capable of and you supported this fully.
To everyone else that I have shared my story with, including friends, colleagues, and all those who have offered encouragement after I have shared my other blog articles I have written about my NVLD: Thank you. It was not until I studied Gibson’s 2006 Disability Identity Theory course in my Student Development Theory course in graduate school, that I decided to push myself to that stage three of Gibson’s theory and wanting to become an advocate for individuals with disabilities.
Thank you to Dr. Sally Lorentson who allowed me to focus on Gibson’s theory as my term project even though the theory focuses on intercultural competence when the graduate course was on college student development theories. After not needing accommodations in undergrad, my underlying enjoyment for implementing universal design for learning and for Tina encouraging me to journal about my experiences, I wanted to break my silence as individuals stated microaggressions such as “You don’t look like you have a learning disability” to me. As student affairs professionals, we “are in a position to break the silence around diverse impairments” (Evans, Forney, Guido, Renn, & Patton, 2016, p. 241). Disclosing to others including supervisors, can be intimidating especially if you just met them. I recommend employing the practice by explaining your disability as how you learn and then as you build a relationship with your supervisor continuing to advocate what you need while sharing what you feel comfortable with when. Also, Gibson believes that fluidity as individuals can fluctuate between the different stages depending on situations that impact them (Evans, Forney, Guido, Renn, & Patton, 2016).
I am excited to advocate for the 1 in 5 individuals with learning and attention issues on Capital Hill with the National Center for Learning Disabilities as we fight for the passage of the RISE Act to advocate for greater equity and access for students with disabilities in higher education. I know for myself sharing my story is vulnerable but I also know how critical it is to recognize and thank the individuals who have been such an important part of my journey.
Evans, N., Forney, S., Guido, F., Renn, K., & Patton, L. (2016). Student development in college: Theory, research, and practice. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Erin received her Bachelor of Science degree in education and history from Salem State University. She is from Winchester, MA. In 2019, she received her Master of Arts in higher education administration from George Washington University, concentrating in policy and finance. Erin currently works as a residential education coordinator at Pennsylvania State University–University Park. Erin is a member of the Young Adult Leadership Council through the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD). She is passionate about advocating for students with disabilities and in increasing college access and equity for individuals of all abilities. Erin enjoys implementing universal design in a higher education setting while helping students find their sense of belonging at an institution. In her free time, Erin enjoys scrapbooking, traveling, watching New England sports (Go Patriots!), and spending time with her friends and family.Share your own story