You Are Not Your Score: A Story About Resilience

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"future educator" sticker
Photographer: Genevieve Olson
Written: November 2019
Revised and edited: April 2020

I was 10 when I found discipline.

I was 14 when I found independence.

15 when I found faith.

16 when I found perseverance.

17 when I found leadership.

18 when I found freedom.

Some kids like to draw or color. Some like to pretend the ground is lava while others play four square till their hands blister. Every kid on the playground was good at something.

You know what I was good at?

Nothing.

I gave up before I could ever know what I was good at. I gave up on tasks so frequently that it eventually became my immediate response to everything…like instinct.

I was a real go getter.

I had a goal at the beginning of my senior year.

A goal to combat my greatest fears.

A goal to triumph over my biggest barriers.

A gaol acknowledges my emotions and sort through them.

September was a challenging month. I kept fighting the urge to slip into old routines. I had good weeks and bad weeks. It was an emotional roller coaster like I’ve never experienced before. I had harder classes this year. I was taking two science classes and was enrolled in an “on-level” math class that taught a variety of college-level math subjects. Surprisingly, these classes were not the burden of my fall trimester.

It was a freaking English course.

My playing field.

My territory.

I had chosen to take “Research Paper” as a trimester elective to earn one of my English credits. Personally, I wasn’t a big fan of research papers. In order to write a good research paper, it requires a lot of dedicated time and thought. I don’t love investing myself in an entirely new topic just to write a concluding paper and forget all about it a month later. I like writing write-ups where I wrote a paper summarizing other research I conducted to conclude an original claim that would further my education in the given subject. I knew that college was going to be full of research papers, so I decided last January when I was registering for classes to rise to the occasion.

This fall I wasn’t as motivated to do so.

After the first week of school, I chose standardized testing for my research topic. I didn’t know why I had chosen the topic, but a part of me felt that I wasn’t finished with standardized tests. I thought I was doing myself a favor by building off of a paper I had written in my junior year in my college writing class about the ESSA Act. (Which I even conducted an interview with the testing coordinator at AVHS for.) Not to mention that as a future educator, this would put me ahead on several levels.

What I wasn’t anticipating, was that this topic was going to drain the life out of me.

I have a love-hate relationship with standardized tests. Over the course of the past decade, standardized tests have taught me a lot about myself. The way my state organizes the score range is by four different colors. Blue is exceeding the standards, green is meeting the standards, yellow is below the standards, and red is well below the standards.

Most of my test scores are in the yellow and red categories. I had a “motivational turning point” when I was ten years old which caused me to change direction, but even with that, I was still scoring in the low categories. I remember getting self-conscious in 5th grade when the GT (Gifted & Talented) teacher would interrupt class to pull the ‘gifted” students out of class. It sucked even more than most of those students were my friends. The only time I would get pulled from the class was to go to my special ed session, which sparked a completely different response.

I never understood it.

These past two years have shined a light on my life-long battle with standardized tests. After taking zero AP courses, but one impactful AP exam,  I vowed never to enroll in an AP course in the nearer future. FYI AVHS kids, CIS courses is so much better.

Although I am grateful for the one AP exam I took and what it taught me, I’d rather take the ACT again than take another CollegeBoard exam.

And, let’s just say that the ACT took the wind out of my sails.

It was October now.

My favorite month.

My favorite month of my favorite season.

This month I would become an adult.

My classes and I were doing alright. Nothing bad, but nothing great. I could feel myself slipping away,  though I wasn’t too motivated to do anything about it.

I know now that I was spiraling.

Oh… and that research paper class?

I was failing.

As the trimester progressed, I kept thinking about what impression I was leaving on my teachers. It hurt to know that they weren’t seeing the true me. Not enough to change my behavior though.

My mother went into full gear when I couldn’t operate on my own. Because sometimes you can’t do everything alone and need some help. She sat down with me at the dinner table and helped me crank out 80 paraphrases for a different assignment for 5 hours. I’m sure she had other things she wanted to do that night.

When it came to writing the actual paper, I was (once again) completely unmotivated. At that point I wasn’t even remotely interested in my topic, I thought it was boring. I felt myself falling behind again.

My mother made me do all of my weekend homework on a Friday night so I could spend the entire weekend working on my paper. She and my stepdad peer-edited the crap out my drafts.

For a second I felt like I was in 3rd grade again, having my parents help me grind through my schoolwork to surpass ELL. My gratitude was (and still is) sky-high.

I arrived to school that Monday ahead of the game.

It wasn’t until the following weekend when I was reading over the final draft and basically re-writing the entire paper, that I saw it all come together. I revisited all my sources and relearned the criteria I should’ve been learning the entire trimester.

The spark came back.

I understood it all.

Overnight, I had created the best research paper I could’ve written. I was in constant communication with my teacher until I got the final stamp of approval before turning it in.

Next, was the presentation.

I didn’t know how I wanted to conclude this journey of mine. I was stressing myself out over trying to end it the perfect way. It wasn’t until (again) that I confided in the people around me that I got my answer.

Not only did I create the presentation, it was the most meaningful presentation I had made to date. I kept going over and over in my head how I wanted each slide to go. Each slide ran on a timer for 20 seconds, so I practiced until my throat hurt.

I don’t think I’ve ever wanted to crush something more in my life.

I walked into the room on presentation day ready to go. I had gone on the second day hoping that the principal was going to make it to hear me speak.

It wasn’t until I was standing in front of my classmates that it all came full circle. I had finally concluded this journey.

When I concluded my presentation, one of my classmates asked why I chose this topic. It was at that moment that I realized I had a response. As I was about to answer her from my seat, without a second thought, I stood up and walked back to the front of the room. Prevailing confidence that I didn’t know I had, I shared my truth.

“Every single standardized test that I have ever taken, has falsely measured my performance. For the past decade, I have driven myself crazy trying to understand why. I used to believe something was wrong with me. I used to question my value. And every.single.person I spoke to told me the same thing, “those tests don’t matter”, “they don’t measure who you are”, I heard it all…..but I never understood it…..it wasn’t until I was staring at the facts that I came to this realization. (and I guess that’s the inner scientist in me) I didn’t accept what I was told, I had to know more. This topic I chose wasn’t just a topic I picked out of a hat. My entire life I have been at war with myself. I have doubted myself. I have doubted my greatness. I have doubted my value……I chose this topic with the hope that I could finally be at peace…..now I can finally say I am.”

Who was this chic standing at the front of the room? Whose voice was crystal clear, who took dramatic pauses as she spoke to make a point, who maintained posture, who made eye contact with their audience as she slowly paced back and forth?

It was magical.

It was freedom.

It is only when we decide to tackle our biggest burdens head-on, that we find freedom. (and with a lot help, of course.)

I’m still learning…every day I’m learning more and more about myself.

There are parts of this journey that I’m not quite proud of, but grateful for nonetheless. This research paper was a pain in my ass, but as a result, with the help of several people, I overcame a barrier that I’ve been fighting since I was eight years old.

This paper made me realize how excited I am to become an educator. I even started making a list of things that I’m going to do in my classroom one day.

I’m so excited.

I was able to pull myself together in the last three weeks of the trimester. I ended with a B in Math and Anatomy, and a A/A- in everything else. People keep telling me how impressive that is, but I’m realizing now that I probably had it in me all along.

Oh…and I’ve been accepted into eight colleges with a collected total of $140,000 in offered scholarships upon admission.

Take that, algorithms.

I might not be gifted.

I might not be the smartest person in the room

…but I do have courage.

So for now, I’m going to run with that.

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