For the first five years of my life I lived in Webster, ND. I attended a half-year of Kindergarten in Starkweather, ND, and then my dad was offered a job half-way across the state. The daily routine of school that I became accustomed to in Starkweather quickly changed to an entirely new class of students, a new teacher, and an entirely new school.
The move had a profound effect on my upbringing. For some strange reason I quickly developed “Separation Anxiety Disorder.” I know that’s what it was because years later I Googled my symptoms and it pointed directly at it.
I did not want to be at school. My mother had to practically drag me into school each day and rather than deal with me, the teacher often let me just lay in front of the classroom door crying. Many days I would eventually just fall asleep there.
I honestly thought my parents were going to leave me. I had no reason to believe that, but something in my head would not allow me to let it go. These thoughts consumed me every single day, and as a result I didn’t do well in school. I hurried through assignments with little care. This lasted all the way until the end of my eighth grade year.
My teachers quickly labeled me as a child with a learning disorder. My mother was called in when I was in third grade and they told her that I probably would never be above a “C” student. I was going to struggle in school they told her, and college may or may not be a possibility.
For the sake of this article getting too long let me stop my story there and get to the point. This was just a chapter of my life. It’s not my entire story. This was a moment in time in which I struggled. I never discussed my anxiety with anybody, nor did anybody ask. By the end of the third grade I think I had completely grown out of it, however, I had grown into the routine of being on an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) and the self-fulfilling proficiency that had been casted upon me became my reality.
Our lives consist of many chapters organized together into our own storybook. My current chapter today and current moment of my life is much different than yours. As we live our chapters our stories begin to evolve and change. As we go through life, we experience ups and downs, and all of those moments contribute to individual chapters. The chapters in themselves do not tell our entire story. Rather, the chapters (intertwined together) in their entirety tell our complete story. If you are reading this, your story hasn’t been completely written. You are simply living a chapter.
In this very moment you may be feeling a sense of utopia. Everything in your life is just great. On the other hand, you might be experiencing some turmoil in your life. You may be experiencing one of the worst moments of your life. This chapter in your life could very well be the worst moment you will experience throughout your entire story. But it is indeed just that; a moment.
My point is simple; we often judge people by the chapter we walk in on. Unfortunately, I’ve seen this happen in schools, and I know for certain this happens every day in all walks of life. The perceptions we have of others often becomes our definition of them.
Single moments don’t define us. Chapters don’t define us. This is a hurdle that we must get over if we are going to make positive change in this world. This judgmental habit that exists in us must be broken. We must see everyone as a someone instead of a something.
There is no better place for us to begin to tackle this habit than in our nation’s schools. We must see every child as a possibility. We must engage in conversations with our students. Essentially, we must ask not what we our students can learn from us each day, rather instead, what we can learn from them each day. We must read the entire book of our students, and not just stop after a chapter.
Furthermore, we must model this as adults in our own communities. Our children are listening. Our children are watching. The conversations we have with each other are often overheard by our children and subsequently our perceptions quickly become their perceptions. We must model the behavior we want to see in our children. And it can’t stop at the borders of our communities. We must not let our televisions, computers, tablets, and phones define the world in which we live or define the people that live within it. The power that the media and entertainment world has is enormous, but it will never outmatch the power we have inside us.
Our eyes will never tell the entire story of someone. Not one single page nor one single chapter will ever define somebody’s entire story. We have got to kick this habit of judgement. Stop judging people by the chapter you walk in on. Behind every person’s flesh is an amazing story. Take time to discover it. You may make a new friend. You may save a life.
And so let it be known that back in 1989 I was labeled learning disabled. Let it also be known that in May of 1999 I gave the valedictorian commencement speech at my graduation. Both moments were merely just chapters.