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Teacher Letter


{Author's note: Since publishing this letter online in 1997, thousands have written saying that reading brought on tears because for the first time they found words to express their thoughts. I hope you will be equally moved. This letter was written to a college professor before I was ever diagnosed with a learning disability in mathematics, and before I ever heard of learning disabilities.}

Dear Math Professor:

(1.) On tests, please allow me scrap paper with lines and ample room for uncluttered figuring.

(2.) I need instant answers and a chance to do the problem over once if I get it wrong the first time. Often my mistakes are the result of "seeing" the problem wrong. To AVOID this, you would have to watch as I went through each problem and correct any mistakes in recording as they happened.

(3.) Problems written too closely together on the page cause me mental confusion and distress.

(4.) Please make the test problems pure, testing only the required skills. They must be free of large numbers and unnecessary distracting calculations. These side-track me into a frenzy!

(5.) Please allow me more than the standard time to complete problems and please check to see that I am free of panic (tears in my eyes, mind frozen).

(6.) If possible, please allow me to take the exam on a one-to-one basis in your presence.

(7.) Most importantly, never forget that I WANT to learn this and retain it! But realize that math is very DIFFERENT than other subjects for me. It is traumatic! The slightest misunderstanding or break in logic overwhelms me with tears and panic. Please understand that I have attempted and failed many times and math is a highly emotional subject for me. Pity will not help me at all, but your patience and individual attention will. I do not know why this is so hard for me. It is like my math memory bank keeps getting accidently erased. And I cannot figure out how to correct the system errors!

(8.) I ask that we work together after class on the material just presented; or, if that is impossible, sometime that day for at least an hour.

(9.) I ask that extra problems be given to me for practice and maybe a special TA (teaching assistant) be assigned to me.

(10.) I know that working with me may be just as frustrating for you. There are no logical patterns to my mistakes. A lot of them are in recording or in "seeing" one part of a problem in another. Sometimes I read 6x(x+3) as 6(x+3). Sometimes I read 9 as 4 or y as 4 and 3 as 8. After you work with me a couple of times, I am sure you will realize how important it is to keep problems as pure and simple as possible because my brain creates enough of its own frustrating diversions.

(11.) It is typical for me to work with my teacher until I know the material well- and then get every problem wrong on the test! Then 5 minutes later, I can perform the test with just the teacher, on the chalk board, and get all problems correct. So, please, do be patient with me, and please do not give up on me!

(12.) When presenting new material, I must be able to WRITE each step down and TALK it through until I understand it well enough to teach it back to you.

(13.) Maybe you could go over the upcoming lesson with me. Then the lecture would be more of a review and I would not be sitting there in tears.

(14.) Lastly, I am sure you know by now that I am not trying to "get out of" doing what is required of the rest of the class. I am not making excuses for not "pulling my load." I am willing to put WAY more into this class than is required of the average or better student. I am not lazy, and I feel really smart in everything but math. That is what frustrates me the most! Everything is easy for me to learn, but Math makes me feel stupid! Why is this one subject so hard? It doesn't make sense. Even trying harder and studying more is futile. I probably will forget everything I learned once this class is over. (That has been my experience with numbers in general- they just slip my mind.) But I wish to apply myself as fervently as necessary to achieve an above average grade in this class. Thanks, in advance, for all your help along the way :-)  

© 1985 Renee M. Hamilton