Since it never occurred to anybody at the school to retain the services of an interpreter, I had to sit in the front row so that I could read the teacher’s lips. Classroom discussions were virtually impossible to follow because I couldn’t hear what was being said around the room. In a vain effort to keep up with the flow of conversation swirling around me, I was always asking whoever happened to be sitting next to me what was being said. Eventually, I got tired of watching everyone shrug their shoulders indifferently and rolling their eyes. I began to pretend that I knew what was going on. Fitting in was so important to me that every time the kids laughed, I laughed along even though I was clueless most of the time.
I spent every spare moment trying to keep up with my peers. While most of them finished their homework well before dinner, I was often holed up in my room right up until dinnertime, only to go back and work well into the night.
One evening, I was working on a math word problem. For the life of me, I couldn’t solve it so I asked my father to help me out. We had been going over it for more than a half-hour and making no progress at all. The smell of pizza drifted in from the kitchen. It was almost suppertime.
My father decided to try one last time.
“Stephen, read through the word problem again,” he said.
After I read it aloud, he added, “Now, do you add or subtract?”
Hesitantly, I replied, “Add?”
“NO, STEPHEN YOU HAVE TO SUBTRACT, SUBTRACT, SUBTRACT!”
His eyes were bulging, ready to pop out while slamming his fist on my tiny desk, almost knocking over the little green lamp.
I shivered in fear. I wanted to dash beneath my bed and stay there forever.
Going to school wasn’t much better either. Kids taunted me and called me names mainly because of my hearing aid and the way I talked.
I remembered thinking, “What have I done wrong?”
Not only did I have trouble fitting in, but I also had difficulty reading the clock, counting money and reading. Although I was gregarious and acted as a happy-go-lucky kid, I actually thought of myself as an ugly yellow bucktooth kid with wires that ran from the hearing aid box to my ears. Other parents didn’t want me to hang around their kids fearing that my deafness would rub off on them. How absurd was that!?!?
Because of my academic struggles, I was fast on my way to being held back in fourth grade. Teachers didn’t know what to do with me.
But then fate intervened.
I was allowed to pass, making the way for my fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Jordan, to make a grand entrance into my life.
She uttered a simple three-word phrase that was delivered at the right time in just the right way, forever changing my life.
A large woman with salt and pepper hair, and twinkling brown eyes, Mrs. Jordan, my fifth grade teacher, had a voice that boomeranged off the walls of her tiny classroom. The school was Blue Creek Elementary in Latham, New York (just outside Albany).
On one sunny afternoon, she asked the class a question. I read her lips from my front-row seat and immediately raised my hand.
I couldn’t believe it – despite my fears, I felt uncharacteristically confident because — for once — I was sure I had the right answer.
But, when she called on me, I was suddenly afraid. Here was an opportunity to impress the powerful teacher and show her I was worthy of her love. Maybe even impress my classmates a little.
I didn’t want to blow it. I took a deep breath and nervously answered her question.
Her explosive response startled all of us.
She enthusiastically slammed her right foot on the floor and whirled her finger a full circle until it pointed directly at me. With sparkling eyes and a wide smile she cried, “THAT’S RIGHT STEPHEN!”
For the first time in my young life, I felt like an instant star. My heart burst with pride as an ear-to-ear grin filled my face. I sat a little taller in my chair and puffed out my chest. My confidence soared.
It was amazing how a simple three-word phrase delivered with incredible enthusiasm had totally transformed my young life.
“THAT’S RIGHT STEPHEN!”
All it took was three words to get me to think that I would make a place for myself in this world no matter how many obstacles I had to overcome. From that day forward, my grades and speech improved dramatically. My peers suddenly looked at me with new respect and my outlook on life did a complete turnabout.
About the Author of this Post: Help and support Stephen by subscribing to his blog at Adversity University to receive inspiring articles about the power of achieving the impossible, overcoming and dealing with adversity in addition to some of the most revealing, in-depth “Stephen Hopson Interviews” of authentic bloggers. He is a former award-winning Wall Street stockbroker turned motivational speaker, author and the first deaf pilot in the world to earn an instrument rating in 2006. Read more about Stephen here.