It started in elementary school. There was a test they gave in the public school system to measure your “giftedness.” If you scored high enough you would be put in with the other high scoring kids on the GT or “gifted and talented” track. My older sister had been in that group since she took the test two years earlier. I probably felt confident. I probably expected that I, too, would get my scores back to find that I was “gifted and talented.” It never happened. My scores came back and I didn’t make the cut. That’s the first time I remember being upset, disappointed, and even embarrassed about my grades. That’s the first time I remember feeling dumb.
I carried on through elementary school an average and sometimes above average student. Math was always a struggle for me. I couldn’t seem to get those numbers to do anything they were supposed to. I entered middle school and fell in love with history in 7th grade. In 8th grade I fell in love with English. But I still couldn’t work out those numbers in my brain. Science was starting to be a struggle too, and any time I got a bad grade it served as a reminder that I was not gifted and talented.
As I worked through Middle School and early High School my grades began to decline and I was getting in trouble regularly over them. To be fair, I know that I could have tried harder, but a piece of me seemed to give up because it was so hard to make math and science make sense. I will never forget my ninth grade algebra teacher (who happened to be my sisters 11th grade chemistry teacher) looking at me after I failed yet another test and wondering out loud, “I can’t believe you’re Amber’s sister. Why can’t you be more like her?” In early High School my grades started to suffer in other subjects as well. It wasn’t until I started to do poorly in history (my favorite subject) that my parents and teachers decided it was time to work this thing out. A meeting with the guidance counselor was scheduled and the adults all met to talk about what was going on with me. I was nervous.
I don’t know all that happened in that meeting, but a decision was made that scared me even more than bringing home an “F” in algebra – they were going to schedule me to be tested for learning disabilities. At the end of ninth grade I sat in a room with a specialist and put together puzzles, answered questions, and wrote essays. They called my parents a few weeks or so later with the results. I had a label: LD – learning disabled. I was embarrassed as I realized that not only was I not gifted and talented but I was worse… I was disabled.
In 10th grade I started going to a special education class for an hour a day and teachers started to make special modifications to their notes and quizzes to help me learn better. It didn’t happen right away, but eventually I started seeing progress. I still couldn’t get those numbers to make sense to me. Math continued to be a struggle until the day I graduated, but my other grades were improving dramatically. My special education teacher started teaching me the tools I needed to learn well and have things make sense. She was the one who told me that LD really means learns differently. She took an interest in me as a person and taught me that I had something to offer and that I wasn’t stupid. She taught me that I was smart, and talented, and kind. These were things I knew deep down, but had buried away under a pile of bad grades.
One day in my junior year of High School my parents and I sat down with the guidance counselor to discuss my class schedule and degree plan for the rest of my High School career. There are a few options. Option one is to get your advanced diploma which sets you up for college. Option two is the standard diploma that sets you up for a tech job or community college. Option three is to take the test to get your GED. As the guidance counselor was talking about my schedule and class options it eventually became clear that she was assuming I would just get the standard diploma and get a job right out of High School. While there is absolutely nothing at all wrong with that option, I wanted to go to a four year college and this lady didn’t think I was smart enough! I cut her off and firmly told her “no, I am getting my advanced diploma and I am going to college.” I think I shocked her and I know I made my parents proud. I had regained confidence in myself.
It was the first step in a series of steps that all led down a path that led me to the knowledge that labels don’t define us and that there are many voices in the world ready to tear you down but only one voice that really matters. I graduated High School with my advanced diploma. A few months later I moved into my college dorm and just three years after that I received my bachelor’s degree. As much as those accomplishments mean to me, there is something that means even more. In those years of college and the years following that led me up to this day I have learned the truth.
I am gifted and talented.
Why? Not because some stupid elementary school test tells me so. Not because I ended High School successfully and overcame the obstacles that stood between me and college. Not because I completed a college degree in three years instead of four. No, none of that tells me I am gifted and talented.
I know I’m gifted and talented because God tells me I am. And you are too. I am enough and you are enough… exactly as we are.
“There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.”
1 Corinthians 12:4-6
(a version of this post originally published in May 2012)
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