The Road to Discovering Part 1: The Way Back Days
Updated: May 5
By Chontae Feldman
How did I get here? To answer that, I have to go back to 1986/1987. I was in first grade. I can remember how I felt when my parents told me I would have to repeat 1st grade. I was devastated. They kept telling me how smart I was. How easy 1st grade would be for me since I had already had it. That I would be ahead.
That is not how it felt.
So, I started 1st grade for the second time, but at a new school.
We moved, again, before my 2nd grade year. At my new school, I had a test done, but did not think anything of it. Come to find out, the school had come to my parents and told them they felt I was dyslexic and needed to be evaluated. Turns out.... I was.
I ended up in a dyslexia class. It was a small group, there were 3 of us. We had to write with these contraptions that none of us liked. We relearned our letters and what sounds they made. We learned how to decode words. I did these classes in grades 3 & 4.
During this time, I learned to spell my name. Yes, Chontae is tough to spell, but, I finally could spell it. I memorized math facts and spelling just long enough to pass the test. I still use dot counting with my kids and calculator for basic multiplication. I’m not convinced that I really ever passed a spelling test.
I would write as tiny as I could. If no one could read what I was writing, no one could tell I spelled most of it wrong.
By 5th grade, I had placed in advanced reading and science, and the middle level for math. I had earned some of my confidence back and was feeling good. I was a smart kid.
The first day of 5th grade, in homeroom, our teacher went over our schedule. I raised my hand and asked “When do I go to my dyslexia classes?” My teacher had a shocked and sad look on her face. She told me it was not possible for me to be in her class if I went to dyslexia. I was going to be bumped to remedial everything. I could not even stay in that homeroom. I went home furious, sad, and all the feelings in between. I forced my parents to have me removed from the dyslexia class. I wanted to stay in all the classes I had earned.
For 5th & 6th grade, I was a normal student. I had normal classes, some advanced. I had always enjoyed being creative and using my imagination when I played, but I was actually enjoying art. Before, when I had my dyslexia classes, I was pulled out of art or music. I would always make it up with another class, but always felt rushed and like I was out of place.
By 7th grade, I was doing well in school. I absolutely loved art class. I even had a piece submitted into an art contest at the local fair. However, we ended up moving after the first 6 weeks.
Once again, I was in a new school. No one knew I was dumb or dyslexic. So I pretended to not be. I worked hard at hiding it. I worked hard at my grades and maintained A\B Honor roll. I was constantly tested for the GT program, but always seemed to just miss it.
My senior year, I placed in one AP class and was invited to join NHS (National Honor Society). I even ended up graduating with honors, which was a complete surprise to me. I was 19th out of class of 112 (top 17%).
My first 2 semesters were at a Jr College. I took the “hard” classes during the May and summer sessions: Algebra -twice, Psychology, History 1 & 2. The History summer classes had a “hard” professor, but test was essay, not multiple guess. The first time I took algebra, I had a calculus teacher. He taught algebra like you had already had calculus. I had not.
I transferred to a university, and knowing math was a weakness, I picked a degree I knew did not require much math or science. Advertising Journalism. It would allow me to be creative with my words in the print media. I could do all the editing I needed. I avoided what I perceived as “real” science and took geology. I was able to physically look at and touch what I was studying. I also took Astronomy in the spring – labs were rained out. No late nights there.
In English, I wrote my paper over Don McLean’s “American Pie” song. I really enjoyed researching and delving into the lyrics. Much of which, is all gone now.
I worked on advertising campaigns for real clients, but for class grades (print, radio and TV).
I had an internship at an actual advertising agency.
I was even able to teach some marketing students a thing or two. At the start of the class, logistics (I just needed the credit for my minor), the teacher had us go around an introduce ourselves. I was the only non marketing student. In fact, after I said I was journalism, he said “well this will be interesting. I’ve never had one of them before.” I not only passed the class with flying colors, but I also had to educate my group that their interpretation of the project was wrong. I saw it one way, they all agreed on another. After discussion with my professor, I was the one on the right path. Not a win for me. These people had no clue how to do real research or even figure out what was important information.
Anyway, I completed my degree in 4 years and a summer. I was not brilliant, but I was in a good place.
My first job was with a small company, doing a job that did not apply to my degree. It did, however, apply to how I saw myself. I was not smart. I got a degree that was super easy. I was in my comfort zone. No one knew I was different. I did not stand out.
But, this job was not for me. I needed to challenge myself.
I actually ended up with a career that is heavy in math and science. I am constantly challenging myself, and doing well at it.
I started saying “yes”. If someone asked for help, I said “yes.” I may not always have the answer, but I could find it, or the right person to help them.
If my manager asked for work on a project or to learn something new. “Yes.”
I started to learn. Like really learn. I challenged myself and did well. I was thriving, and you know what? I really enjoyed it. I’m surrounded by engineers and experts in their field, and these people are asking me for help.
I am severely empathetic. No one cries alone. All sorts of people talk to me and tell me their story. I think they just need someone to listen, not to try and fix.
I have a pile on the counter for me to remember. It has all the papers from school and activities that I feel are important to remember. If the pile is moved, all is lost. It’s part of how I remember things.
I live by google calendar – if it’s not on there, it does not exist. I check it first thing in the AM and then a few times throughout the day, and again at bedtime for the next day.
Why do I share all this?
Because, until I cared to learn more, I did not realize that my dyslexia played a big role in these things.
Chontae Feldman is a co-founder for The Dyslexia Initiative. She is dyslexic, and a mother of 2 dyslexic daughters.