Never Give Up

My name is Terence McDermott. I am a husband, father, special education teacher, veteran, mentor for the socially and behaviorally challenged, and devoted volunteer in various veteran and military organizations working to help both military families and those returning from deployment integrate back into civilian life.

For me, school was very difficult. Learning was extremely demanding as I grew up with an auditory processing disorder. Adapting to the old school method of teaching by lecture was not only challenging, it was next to impossible. To make matters worse, I was the scrawny, pimple faced kid who was lost and had no direction. As a result, I was bullied both emotionally and physically further compounding my hatred towards school. I was different, and I knew it.

As each year passed, I became more ashamed of my inability to learn like my peers. Due to an extreme shift in negative behavior, lack of academic progress, and low self-esteem, I ended my school career dropping out at the age of sixteen. I vowed to never return to the classroom setting.

Trying to function in any school environment with an auditory processing disorder is challenging. My parents and teachers were positive that I was simply being lazy and not listening to them. The truth was, I was listening but was not “hearing” what they were saying. Due to my disability, I would pay attention for the first five minutes and then drift off and not “process” anything else. Although I was looking straight at them, nothing registered as I was still focused on what was initially stated. By the time class was over, I had no idea what I had heard or what I had missed. I felt embarrassed and stupid when my teachers and parents would become frustrated with me for not listening. Their look of disappointment further exacerbated the situation.          

The “old school” method of teaching only reached those students who were good listeners, those who were independent enough to copy notes exactly as they were written, and those who learned simply by sitting back and absorbing each lecture as it was presented. Anyone who could not keep up earned zeros for incomplete notes, zeros for missing homework, and subsequently, were left behind. Sadly, those were also the same students who would most likely earn low test scores and were deemed not very intelligent, lazy, and unmotivated to learn. Although there are some students who do lack the personal drive to do well, there are those that truly struggle. This is not because of their ability level, it is simply because they have a different learning style than that of their peers. 

As I entered into middle school, the bullying became much more vicious. Walking down the halls involved being punched, spit on, ridiculed, and humiliated on a daily basis. Lunch time was the worst as I often found myself eating alone. On occasion, walking home was a living nightmare. Sometimes I was able to get there without incident. Other times, I was cornered by a group of peers who would push me down, punch, and mock me all the way home. Living in fear every day was not something that I wanted to do; however, it became a way of life. In fact, my parents transferred me to a new school and had me repeat eighth grade. This was for a fresh start more so than improving my academics.

I would not allow myself to live as I had been anymore. I would not allow myself to be humiliated anymore. I would not allow myself to look “unintelligent” in the eyes of my peers anymore. When called upon by my new teachers to answer questions, I would act out. Getting kicked out of class was a much better option, in my eyes, than not knowing the answer and looking “stupid.” I also turned to other very unhealthy habits to gain the attention, positive or negative I did not care, of others. Detention, Saturday school, and suspension became the new norm. One of my teachers even stated to me, “You will never go anywhere, and you will never make anything of yourself.”  This only further compounded my hatred for the education system. I was on a dangerous downward spiral, and my family knew it. Shortly after I turned sixteen, my parents sent me to a boarding school in Minnesota for an entire year. After returning home, I dropped out, and eventually earned my G.E.D.

Years later, I joined the United States Army and served in the 82ndAirborne Division. My life, for the first time, changed for the better. I finally discovered something where I excelled. For me, moving away and adapting to military life was easy. The military taught me an abundance of self-confidence, plenty of discipline, the significance of an education, and most importantly, it made me who I am today.

Besides my family, my mission and passion in life is special education. No one should ever have to live in fear of others, live in fear of going to school, question their very own existence, and/or feel academically inept. Each and every day is spent trying to learn new teaching methods and strategies to help my students. In my classroom, every lesson is taught using tools to reach all types of learners, not just a select few. All lessons are differentiated to reach all abilities and academic levels. No one is ever left behind.

Image Courtesy: Terence McDermott (L)

Being an educator, a special educator, has given me the rare opportunity to work with students who share a similar path as myself.  I am very well versed in my job as I live and breathe special education. My brain never slows or shuts down as I am always thinking about new ideas to help my students find success both in and out of the classroom. For them, support does not end when they graduate high school. To this day, some still send emails looking for feedback on a recent essay for their college level course, some write to let me know how they are doing and to ask for advice, some ask to meet for lunch to discuss strategies and talking points for an upcoming job interview, and a few volunteer in my classroom. 

Image Courtesy: Terence McDermott

Furthermore, I would like to conclude with the message below. Irony: “a state of affairs or an event that seems deliberately contrary to what one expects and is often amusing as a result.”  Instead of using the words from one of my former teachers who told me I would never go anywhere, and never make anything of myself as something to doubt myself, I used them as motivation. Years after the army and graduating from Ohio Dominican University, Bachelor and Master Degree in hand, I had the opportunity to stand face-to-face with that teacher and thank him for his inspiring words…as I was now his colleague. Never give up on your dreams. Most importantly, never give up on yourself.  

Image Courtesy: Terence McDermott
Image Courtesy: Terence McDermott
Image Courtesy: Terence McDermott

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