Academic success or failure: it’s up to you

Overcoming academic challenges

Academic success or failure: it’s up to you

Everyone experiences challenges. Right now, one of yours is probably school.

I had my share of challenges when I was in high school and college. On a personal level, nine people close to me died, three each year after I entered college. It was difficult to keep going, but I did. My biggest academic challenge was overcoming dyslexia. I could have easily given up, but I didn’t. I found ways to work through it.

In high school, I was in learning disabled classes. I listened to people around me and thought I really was stupid. My 7th grade teacher finally convinced me otherwise. He told me, and the rest of my class, that we weren’t stupid, we just learned differently. We were as smart as other students, and, in some areas, possibly even smarter.

Giving up would have been easy when I was trying my hardest, doing my best, and still failing assignments. I was discouraged. I had to make a choice: quit or change things. I was encouraged to never give up, so, I started to make changes. And started doing something I didn’t want to do—ask for help.


Asking for help

Asking for help was hard. In fact, I hated it! I didn’t want to look dumb, until I finally realized, it’s okay to ask for help when you’re struggling. If you’re not doing well, and you don’t ask for help, how are you going to improve? Now, that’s dumb.

I needed help, so I talked to my teachers, I enlisted friends, and found tutors to help. Knowing someone was there to help also improved my confidence.


Techniques that helped me learn

Nobody learns the same way and I needed to be willing to find out how I learn. I tried a lot of techniques before I figured out what worked best for me. Even if something didn’t seem to work right away, I’d stick with it for awhile, and tweak it. If it really wasn’t helping, I’d move on to another technique.


Here are some of the techniques that worked for me:

I told my college instructors I had dyslexia. It was difficult—something I was really uncomfortable doing. I didn’t want to make excuses, especially in college, but I needed them to know because I needed their help. I didn’t know what they were going to say, which was scary. I always thought of the absolute worst thing that could happen. What if they weren’t willing to help? I found that most of my teachers were very willing to work with me.

In class, either the teacher or I asked another student to take notes for me. I also brought a recorder to class, which I didn’t like doing because I couldn’t hide it. But, it helped.

In addition to tutors, I asked friends to help me with homework. They didn’t do it for me, but I was able to ask them questions and make sure I was headed in the right direction.

To read, I used what looks like a ruler with a window running through it. It helped me focus on the line I was reading, instead of begin distracted by the words above and below. It worked. I was better able to understand what I was reading, it just took me longer than others.

It was impossible for me to create an outline. Someone taught me a method to organize information that worked for me. It’s called the “web” method. Instead of a list, it looks like a web when you’re finished. It’s just a different way of doing an outline. 

Spelling has always been very difficult. I learned to break longer words into smaller words, only three or four letters long.


To succeed, I had to overcome my fears

Overcoming my academic challenges was my choice. I could have believed I was stupid and given up on school—and myself—completely. But, I didn’t. I learned to do something I hated—ask for help. I learned different methods that helped me read and write, and take notes and tests.

I was scared that even with all the help I was getting and the extra work I was doing, I would still fail. Well, I was right. I did fail. I didn’t immediately do better. It still took a lot of hard work, and time, and help from others. Most importantly, I decided to keep doing my best. I learned it was up to me to succeed for fail.

As Henry Ford said, “The man who thinks he can and the man who thinks he can't are both right.”

Which one are you?

Five things you can do if school is a challenge.

1. Ask questions. Asking questions isn’t a sign of being stupid. Not knowing something and not asking questions—now that’s stupid!

2. Ask for help. Ask your teachers, counselors, friends, family, and anyone you trust for help. If they can’t, they may know of someone who can.

3. Find what works for you. Ask others the methods they use to learn and study. You may discover a method you never considered. Try different ones until you find those that work for you.

4. Think long term, not short term. I can’t tell you how many times I thought, “If I fail this test, my life is over.” I failed a lot of tests and I’m still here to talk about it.

5. Keep doing your best, over and over again.

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