Krystiana Schaffer: What I Wish My Students Knew

I don’t want you to think that I decided to enter the world of education because of the handful of people during my 17 years of schooling who made me feel disruptive and like an underachiever. I decided to enter education because of the many more incredible teachers I met along the way who saw me for more than my grade on a spelling test. My first grade teacher let me be silly and my fifth grade teacher held me to high standards and gave me the structure I needed. My German teachers, all five of them, are some of the most incredible teachers I know and taught me just as much about life as they did German language. My high school English teachers made me fall in love with the very words that once felt unreachable and unreadable. My guidance counselor and my principal became members of my family and my business teacher was an incredible lady.

Krystiana Schaffer, 17-18, De Marillac Academy, San Francisco, CA

Krystiana Schaffer, 17-18, De Marillac Academy, San Francisco, CA

When I got to college I was blown away by the Lasallian mission and community. A handful of my professors, one with dyslexia, made a huge impact on my career choice and inspired me to keep doing my best work. Most of these teachers never really knew that school was hard for me. Reading and writing were challenging for most of my academic career only getting easier when spell check was added to computers and audio books became more popular. Once in college I was so exhausted and frustrated with school that I sought the answers for myself.  After several doctors’ appointments and six hours of comprehensive testing I was finally given the answers I was expecting. Dyslexia, Attention Deficit Disorder and a specific learning disability in reading. I got that diagnosis three days after completing my last day of college. It was liberating actually; I could finally forgive myself for that D on my report card and for having to retake Organic Chemistry II over the summer. But each teacher I had who “got” me for a lack of a better term made me feel important and smart and capable. They never set me back but pushed me forward and helped shape me into a young woman who is proud of where she came from and where she is going. I ended up at La Salle University because of the teachers who made learning fun and who are passionate about their vocation. I would not be here today as a capable student and teacher without them. I wanted the opportunity to be that for one of my students, the way they were for me. That’s why I decided to apply to be a Lasallian Volunteer. I wanted the opportunity to remind my students that their brains are beautiful. Getting to do that at a Lasallian institution felt like more than just the right place, but it continues to feel like my calling. The Lasallian community allowed me to move 3,000 miles away and still feel at home.

Krystiana and fellow LV and community member Quaneesha Shields

Krystiana with fellow LV and community member Quaneesha Shields

Fast forward to my first day of teaching and the opportunity Lasallian Volunteers and the Lasallian community gave me has already exceeded my wildest dreams. During staff training at De Marillac Academy, LV alum and La Salle University graduate, Samantha Hyland, the school resource teacher, gave a presentation about learning disabilities. Her words were filled with passion and dedication to her students. She spoke of dyslexia, attention deficits and a number of other learning disabilities and showed a short video of Steven Spielberg detailing his own experiences. I had tears in my eyes during the interview because I identified with his frustration and because I felt the beauty that dyslexia brought him and me. Samantha created such a safe space for our community that teachers began offering up their own experiences; a brother, a student, someone close to them who struggled in school. Samantha created the environment that prompted me to tell my new colleagues that I too have dyslexia. Shaking uncontrollably and with tears still in my eyes I thanked everyone in that room for being so aware. I truly look up to those teachers for their dedication to their students and for their commitment to individualized learning and the success of their students. Most importantly, I look up to Ms. Hyland who is dedicated to not only her students, but to normalizing learning disabilities and empowering her fellow teachers to do the same. It is people with passions like hers that got me here. Samantha recommended to me that I share with my class the same thing I did with my colleagues because there are five students in the seventh grade class with dyslexia.

I was really nervous about it, but I remember my professor, Dr. Ballough, explaining his academic struggles on our first day of class. He filled me with drive and determination, so I decided to put my syllabus and lab safety lesson on hold and get to thing that was most important to me: the success of my students. Using an activity I learned at the Kitson Institute, I made my own version of “What I wish my teacher knew….” I gave my students the space to tell me about their lives and to be vulnerable if they felt they could. I knew it was also unfair to ask someone to trust me and be vulnerable with me, if I could not do the same for them. I started with a slide of my family and I told my class I missed them. Next was a map of all the cool places I have traveled to. My last topic of conversation began with a slide displaying a picture of me in the seventh grade, pre-braces, in all my awkward glory. I gave my class of 24 permission to giggle and then I took the conversation to a serious but positive place. I told my students that reading and writing is difficult for me, but that I loved school. I then advanced to the next slide revealing the text that read “I have dyslexia.”

Krystiana with all of her community members

Krystiana with all of her community members

I heard a few gasps but before I could even begin to explain one of my students stood up in front of her class with a big smile on her face and proudly said “me too” to the whole class. I was and am so proud of her because I know how hard it is to be honest about it. She knew I understood her, and I know she understands me. I also hope she knows that I have her back and am dedicated to helping her and my entire class in any way I can. I told the class that I was proud of my dyslexia and that it made me the determined person I am today. I told them that I think it is beautiful and a gift rather than a curse. I know she got it and that connection is why I wanted to travel 3,000 miles across the country. To see the light in her eyes made my entire day, my entire week for that matter. I hope to aid in the normalization of a rather common disability. Will I misspell words this year? You better believe it. I told my class that too. But I also told them that it’s okay because I am still learning – a forever student. I became a Lasallian Volunteer because they gifted me the opportunity to work in the classroom teaching a subject I love, to students who need to be reminded that their individuality and uniqueness is beautiful. We all need to be reminded of that. I am teaching at a school that operates under the Lasallian mission I love and makes every child feel like the gifted and talented students they all are. We are so much more than a test score – De Marillac gets it and is dedicated to shaping well-rounded individuals with strong Lasallian values. We are meeting students where they are, just as I was met where I was in my formative years. I am so incredibly thankful for the opportunity to be here and for the Lasallian community across the world that helped me get here. #IwannaLV #youshouldtoo #LVingthedream

Krystiana Schaffer is first-year LV serving at De Marillac Academy in San Francisco, California and a 2017 graduate of La Salle University.

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