I Was 2E Before It Was Cool – And It Sucked
I grew up in a time before “twice exceptional” was a thing. That term only came into the educational lexicon around 1997, which was too late for me, given that I graduated high school in 1999. When I was young, nobody understood that a gifted child could also have learning disabilities or other special needs, you were either one or the other. Around my third grade year, the epidemic of ADHD diagnoses and Ritalin dosing got started, but I wasn’t caught in that. I needed help, but I was ignored and, in fact, ridiculed for being inconsistent. Instead of being encouraged and supported, I was shamed for not being perfect at everything.
I spent preschool through first grade (ages 3-6) in Montessori school. I was reading by age 5, but at that time Louisiana public schools were teaching kids to read in first grade. Since my mom didn’t want me to have to sit through all that and dumb myself down, I came into public school in second grade, way ahead of the rest of the kids in most academics.
It was hell.
About a month into that year, my language arts teacher called my parents in for a conference. Waving a piece of my work that I’d written in cursive (as I had learned in Montessori first grade), she proceeded to argue with 7-year-old me for several minutes like so:
Mrs. T: “You can’t write in cursive.”
Me: “Sure I can. What do you call that?”
Mrs. T: “Second graders don’t know how to write in cursive.”
Me: “I do.”
Mrs. T: “You don’t learn to write in cursive until third grade.”
Me: “I learned it last year at my old school.”
Mrs. T: “But you can’t write in cursive!”
(Repeat this loop until my mom broke in)
Mom: “She means you may not write in cursive in her class because none of the other kids know how to do that yet. You need to write in print like they do.”
Me: “That’s not what she said.”
Mom: “I know, but that’s what she meant. Just write like the other kids.”
Me: “Oh. Ok, if I have to.”
Mrs. T. treated me like scum after that. My math teacher, Mrs. M., just couldn’t understand how I couldn’t do basic math facts and timed drills, because I was “supposed to be smart”. Twenty-five years later, I discovered there was a word for it: dyscalculia. But at that time, they just said I wasn’t trying or I didn’t care.
I was the only kid in the Gateway (gifted) program that year, which pulled me out of regular class for a while every morning. I assumed that was why my teachers disliked me: I was the only disruption. In third grade, a few other kids joined me in Gateway so I thought it would be different, but it wasn’t.
That year, my language arts teacher singled me out for writing my “y” in a way she didn’t like:
Mrs. C: “Some people in this class have been writing their ‘y’ like this”
*draws a curly letter “y” on the board*
“That’s not a ‘y’, is it, boys and girls?”
Class: (collective singsong voice) “Noooo!”
Mrs. C: “A ‘y’ has sticks, doesn’t it, boys and girls?”
*draws a “correct” letter “y”*
Class: (collective singsong voice) “Yeeess!”
*Mrs. C looks pointedly at me as if to say “See? I win.”*
*I am thoroughly ashamed and never write a “y” that way again until high school.*
We did learn cursive that year, but everything was graded on neatness, of which I was incapable. Twenty-five years later, I learned the word for that: dysgraphia. But at that time, I was given big red F’s on every paper, which Mrs. C. seemed to relish as much as my classmates did. I had a repeat of the previous year with my math teacher, Mrs. J.: accusations of “not trying” and questioning how I got into Gateway when I couldn’t answer simple problems.
In fourth grade, Mrs. P. sent me out into the hall for some little stimming behavior I was doing, then came out and asked me if everything was ok at home. I didn’t understand what she was asking, or why she sent me out of class, or why she looked and sounded so angry at me while using words that should have been caring. Nothing came of it – no evaluation, no parent conference, no referral to a psychologist or anything.
A new Gateway teacher that year considered me extremely disrespectful and rude for speaking my mind in class discussions; I considered her too dumb to be teaching gifted kids if she couldn’t handle a 9-year-old’s opinions. In hindsight, I probably was disrespectful and rude, but I would never have known that because at home I wasn’t even expected to say “ma‘am” and “sir”. In my defense, though, Ms. H treated the phrase “shut up” as if it were a swear word, so maybe everything was rude to her.
By fifth grade, there were eight of us in Gateway, and we spent most of the morning there for advanced reading and language arts, so we were all a collective disruption. While our teachers loved the one girl who was their pet, they tolerated the other six and continued to single me out. In art class, Mrs. H criticized my inability to color inside the lines – a major red flag at that age, but all she did was berate me for “scribbling like a baby”.
A geography test asked “what continent is New Zealand a part of?” and I said it wasn’t part of any continent because it’s an island; that question was marked wrong. My parents told me that teacher was an idiot, and then went up to school and told her so to her face (her defense was that our map had both New Zealand and Australia colored purple, so it was a part of Australia). Mrs. B also handled math and, knowing that I couldn’t do math in my head, she would call on me just to set me up to fail in front of the class. She actually used the same line my classmates had been using every time I got an answer wrong since second grade: “I thought you were supposed to be smart because you’re in Gateway!”
It was in fifth grade that my lack of social ability really began to show. I was not accepted by most of the kids in class, and I couldn’t navigate the cliques. I don’t remember ever “acting out” per se, but I certainly had a lot of trouble interacting with my classmates and made lots of mistakes. My teachers suddenly branded me a behavior problem. They pulled me out into the hall one day and surrounded me, all three of them leaning down over me with fingers in my face and yelling at me about my behavior and what I’d done (whatever that was). I was terrified and totally confused about why these adults were so angry at me. They threatened me with going to the principal (in the days of corporal punishment) and said a Gateway student should be better behaved. And still, even though all those teachers agreed that this was a big change for me, nobody did anything. No suggestion of counseling, no evaluation or testing, not so much as a note sent home.
Yes, I’m bitter. I can’t really help it. Those teachers were awful to me and encouraged the bullying I went through every day. In case you’re wondering, things improved in middle school when the gifted kids were kept in their own classes, although my math teachers were still hard on me. I’m really glad that today’s kids have it better, and that 2E kids can now get the help they need without being made fun of by their teachers as well as their classmates.
Any 2E horror stories you’d like to share? Any good stories from 2E kids who got help?