Student Stories

Stories from Past DESP Students

This is Mary Black

Mary Black

All my life, I have been considered slow. Slow at reading, slow at processing, slow at learning in general. If you had asked me in high school how I felt about being slow, I would've probably told you it was the worst thing in the world. Teachers asking other students to help you, peers’ knowing looks, and homework that was impossible to complete were all aspects of my school life I could barely cope with. Yet it would be the understanding of these aspects that would hold the key to my passion and the career I would choose.

I was nine years old before I learned to read. Although I was homeschooled, the more intimate learning environment was not enough to keep me on track academically. By the time I was a senior in highschool, I was so behind in math that if I wanted to pursue higher education, I would have to start college in pre-algebra. The process of always playing catch up had really taken a toll on my confidence at this point, and I figured even if I was able to do college, I would only receive C’s. Still, something inside of myself was telling me, begging me, to try.

I started West Valley Community College by getting tested for a learning disability. As expected, I have one, and was promptly provided with the necessary accommodations to give me equal opportunity for success. I only started with a few classes, but math was one of them. Before the actual math class, I would attend a math lab provided by the Disability and Educational Support Program (DESP) to get a little more familiar with the material, do homework, and receive tutoring for problems I struggled with. As I went through the semester, I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that I was understanding the material. Not only was I understanding it, but I was doing really well in the class. So well, that I began to assist my peers when they had questions. A year into my college education, my lab teacher asked if I would consider taking the pre-algebra tutoring position for her class. Although I was elated that she had that much confidence in my abilities, the thought of assisting college students on my own was quite daunting. What if I was slower at teaching than they were at learning? What if there was a problem I couldn’t solve? Every scenario buzzed around my head until I had almost convinced myself the position wasn’t for me. But again, that voice inside, though quite terrified, told me I needed to try.

I started tutoring the next semester and quickly came to a conclusion on how I felt about it; I absolutely loved it. The best part of my job was that I could use my disability to my advantage. I understood my students’ struggles with certain concepts because I too had found them difficult to learn. When someone couldn’t understand a problem the way it was written, I would work with their strengths to find a way they could comprehend the material. Every evening after I had tutored, my mind would​ spin​ with ideas of how I could make a concept more teachable. If it was fractions, maybe I could draw pictures. ​If it was the number line, maybe I could physically walk across the floor to illustrate positive and negative number places. I ​was also always very transparent about my own learning challenges, and would playfully tease the students about being out of a job if no one was brave enough to ask questions. I wanted them to be as comfortable as possible; to understand that I was never going to tell them they weren’t good enough or couldn’t do it. Once I had been tutoring for a year, the DESP asked if I would like to work as an office assistant to the accommodations specialist. At this point, my confidence had grown enough that I readily accepted the position. I enjoyed this job as well, and gained invaluable knowledge about what goes on behind the scenes within a student disability department. All of this experience began to make me think about what I wanted to do for my career, and one job in particular began to stick out in my mind; teaching.

I’ve been specifically pursuing a teaching career in special education for two years now. When I transferred from community college, I left with a 4.0 grade point average and have continued striving for and achieving academic excellence while I’ve been at California State University Monterey Bay. I have utilised my accommodations when needed, and have always communicated well with my teachers. I even applied for and got a job on campus similar to the one I had at my community college. I am still a slow learner, I always will be, but that is not where I stop when I define myself anymore. I am a successful student with personal experience in the field of special education that will be invaluable for my career. I am passionate about my future students, and I look forward to assisting them with being successful in my class. Most importantly though, I am accepting of myself. I will make a great special education teacher, not because of who I’ve always wished I could be, but because of who I am.

My Learning Difference and Words of Encouragement for My Peers

Alan Palmen

My name is Alan Palmen and I would like to share my story as a student with a learning disability. I would like to share some words of encouragement to others who might have grown up with a learning disability or with a difficult time in school. Having a hard time learning and absorbing academic material could be very frustrating for me. Over the years, I have learned how to turn my learning difficulty into a strength and stopped seeing it as a weakness.

Ever since I was little, I’ve had difficulty with reading comprehension, test taking and processing what others say. I spent my whole school life in special education classrooms through high school and occasionally attended mainstream classes. Throughout high school, I would feel frustrated with myself in the classroom, doing homework, and during tests. As a result, my confidence and motivation to participate in school started to decrease. However, I found a way to accept my difficulty and turn it into a strength and was able to push forward into success.

As I graduated high school and moved into college life, I discovered there are many resources that I have access to. I discovered the Disability and Educational Support Program (DESP) at West Valley College and the Accessible Education Center (AEC) at San Jose State University. Both of these departments have been of a great help to me. At West Valley, I got access to extra time on tests, note-takers, and reading software’s. In addition, I got many of the same accommodations at the AEC at SJSU! With the help of these departments, my outlook on my disability changed. Now I see my disability as a strength. Using the accommodations to help me go at a slower pace has made me more of a perfectionist which allows me to turn in quality work. Basically, I have learned to appreciate the way I learn and to appreciate all the great staff and resources that are available to me and to others who struggle through school. I can’t say I know how other people with learning difficulties feel because we all have unique experiences. I’d like to motivate them to be appreciative of their learning styles and to be aware of all the wonderful resources that are available on campus or online.

Overall, I’d like to conclude with some words of encouragement. I encourage my peers to not be embarrassed of a learning difference. Instead, one should accept it, find a way to see it as a strength, and seek resourceful accommodations from The DESP at WVC or The AEC at SJSU. Both campuses have outstanding staff who are there to support us. Also, communicate with your teachers in order to keep yourself ahead of the game. We all have our learning styles and we are blessed to have such wonderful support teams on both of these campuses. I wish all students a successful semester and good luck in the future!

Last Updated 3/3/21