Never "Measuring Up"
Fear of Tests
As many of us are getting ready to start another year of school, I’m reminded of a lot of fond memories from my years in school as a student and now as a teacher. One memory I have, that probably many of you do, is that of taking tests and this is NOT one of those “fond” memories! I know tests are a necessary evil, but I still get a bit stressed out at the idea of having to take a test.
But why is that?
Most of us want to do well on tests we have to take whether it’s a test on a subject we study in school or a big test like the ACT or SAT. These biggies are the tests we need to score well on in order to be “accepted” to a college so we can take even more tests. See the irony in that?!?!
So, if it’s not the fear of taking a test on something we really should know, then what is it we actually fear?
The fear of failure? The fear of rejection? The fear of not measuring up? The fear of being compared?
For me, it was pretty much all of the above!
I certainly didn’t want to fail a test. I was always a diligent student, so, for the most part, I made good grades, yet there was always the fear of failing, of being rejected, of not measuring up, or of being compared. Somehow I always had the irrational thought that I would study really, really, REALLY hard and still fail the test. Self-fulfilling prophecy many times!
As for the fear of rejection, I’m not really sure who I thought would reject me. My parents? No. My friends? No, because they wouldn’t know! My teachers? Maybe. Myself? Most likely. I never wanted anyone to think I wasn’t smart or capable.
The fear of being compared. Ahhhh! Now that’s a biggie!
Why are we so afraid of being compared? Well, if you’re the one with the higher grade you don’t mind being compared to others. But, if you’re the one with the lower grade, well, that’s a totally different story!
This summer we made several visits to a psychologist having my daughter “tested”. And, by tested, I mean tested for learning disabilities.
We knew early on, in about the first grade, Ann-Ashton struggled to “learn”. Not learning as in “knowing stuff”. She knew a lot of things, she had a quick wit about her and a way of getting to know people rather quickly. People might have called her “street smart”, but she seemed to have trouble grasping larger more abstract concepts.
When she was ready to move to second grade, her teacher, her dad, and I decided it might do her some good to repeat first grade. She has a July birthday, so she was one of the youngest kids in her class and those developmental months between her and the rest of her class were beginning to show. In my heart, I knew it was the best thing for her, but I also knew it would crush her spirit and it did.
I will never forget having to tell her. We were sitting on the couch in our den one afternoon. We both cried and held each other for what seemed like forever. She couldn’t truly understand why she was being held back. She just felt like she wasn’t good enough. She felt below average.
Two of my colleagues were training to administer tests for dyslexia, so we offered to let Ann-Ashton be their guinea pig and have her tested. Sure, enough she showed all the markers for dyslexia, but she did not qualify for any of the special education services. So, we knew she was smart, she just learned differently.
One of the special education teachers at her school offered to let Ann-Ashton take part in their classes for a few hours every day. She was in a class of others who had been diagnosed as dyslexic and who had other, more extreme learning disabilities. That time actually helped Ann-Ashton tremendously! She developed several strategies for learning and thrived throughout elementary school.
Things seemed fine throughout middle school and for the most part during high school. We knew she had to work extra hard to make good grades, but she is a tenacious one, so she was determined to make good grades.
She came to us a couple of times in high school saying she had a hard time focusing. We thought she was just being her dramatic self and kept encouraging her to push on through, and she did.
Then Came College
Fast forward to college and her Freshman year. Boy, was it a doozy!
Not only did she struggle to balance all the new things that come with going to college (sorority, roommates, new classes, new professors, time, etc.), but she developed a tremendous amount of anxiety.
She gained the Freshman Fifteen her first semester and seemed so completely lost by December I worried she might give up. But, much to our surprise she came back in January determined to do better. She made a commitment to 21 Days of Prayer and Fasting (liquids ONLY, people!) and drew a line in the sand to make the spring semester a better one. She did do better, but still, the struggles and anxiety kept piling on.
I had the privilege of teaching Ann-Ashton in one of my Visual Arts classes in the spring semester, so I truly saw how she functioned as a student. For the first time in my 21 years of teaching, I also saw things from a student’s point of view. Wow was that eye-opening for me! To see how kids go from running on a super strict schedule for 13 years to having all sorts of freedom with scheduling to whether or not they show up for a class was truly a wakeup call for me.
Seeing things from the students’ perspectives has honestly made me a better teacher. I saw how her time was eaten up with sorority activities, study hall, campus activities, and then trying to study on top of all that. Wow! That’s a lot to grasp when you first go off to college. And, it was even harder for me not to step in and try to fix everything even though I live in the same town.
By seeing her as a student and not just as my daughter, I realized she was really struggling. I would help her study and things I thought she should just “get”, she couldn’t.
I tried every study trick I knew and nothing seemed to work.
I LOVE studying history, so when it came time to help her with her Civil War history exam I thought I would try explaining it to her like a story. As soon as I got two points into the story she started yelling, “It’s just too much! I can’t remember all of that!” Although I tried to reassure her she did not have to “remember” everything, just the gist of it, it did not matter. She was so overwhelmed by the amount of information and the complexity of the stories that she went into full anxiety attack mode. It was an emotional moment, but very enlightening!
Once I was able to convince her dad that I now believed there really was something “not connecting”, he agreed to have her re-evaluated for other learning disabilities this summer.
She went through a battery of tests (I.Q., academic, and behavior evaluations) and a couple of weeks ago we met with the psychologist to hear the results.
I was rather excited to hear what the psychologist had to say. I wondered if we were correct in thinking something was a bit “off” or if Ann-Ashton was perfectly fine. Either way, I wanted these “tests” to help us figure out how to help her with her academic career.
Ann-Ashton was convinced the doctor would tell her she was “dumb” or something equivalent. I told her first of all, we know that’s not true by what she has already accomplished and most of that has been on sheer determination and willing herself into success. And second, the doctor was not going to just come out and say, “you're smart” or “you’re dumb”. Bless her!
When we arrived and the doctor began to tell her what she had found, I could tell Ann-Ashton was a bit tense. The doctor began by drawing a bell curve and labeling where “average” was located and then pointing out there are “high” average and a “low” average variables surrounding this arbitrary average.
I thought oh, no, not these stupid Bell curve things! This goes against everything I believe as a teacher, but that’s a topic for another time! I knew part of what was coming….depending on where Ann-Ashton scored, she most likely was about to show us where she fell on the Bell curve. And I was right. Between her IQ scores and academic scores, she fell somewhere around the lower side of average.
As we continued to listen to the doctor, I felt reassured that Ann-Ashton’s feelings of inadequacy and the struggles she had been coping with for several years were about to be revealed as true learning disabilities. And they were.
She was diagnosed with ADHD with inattention-type, severe anxiety, along with the inability to grasp complex, abstract concepts.
When the doctor finished presenting her findings she asked us what we thought or if we had any questions. I spoke up first by saying she had very eloquently put into words everything we were thinking. Ann-Ashton’s dad asked her how she was feeling after hearing everything.
Ann-Ashton immediately teared up and said, “It hurts to hear you’re below average.”
The psychologist immediately piped back, “Oh, no! I said you’re at the lower end of average, not below.”
I was crushed! My baby girl thought, once again, she was “below average” or at best “average”.
Knowing Who We Truly Are
Although it hurt all of us to hear some of the things the doctor said, it really was comforting to know Ann-Ashton was not being a drama queen and we now had a game plan for helping her succeed just like we knew all along she would.
She will be able to receive extra help from the university’s adaptive needs and tutoring departments and she will begin taking some medications to deal with the attention and anxiety.
Not only was this testing necessary and beneficial it also caused us all to reflect on Ann-Ashton’s short time here on earth and realize who she truly is. And, I’m not just talking about who she is as a successful student, but who she is in her Maker’s eyes.
The whole idea of being “tested” comes in many forms. We in academia immediately think of taking an exam to test what we know, but testing can be a lot of different things
In Malachi 3:10 God actually asks to be “tested”. This is the only time He asks this, but it is to prove His point of giving tithes first and how He will bless everything we have after that.
We often think God is testing us, but that’s simply not true. God doesn’t “test” us with evil thoughts or ideas, but He does allow the devil to do just that. He allows us to be tested, just as He allowed Job and Jesus to be tempted, so that when we go through whatever the “test” is we will come out better and stronger. In surviving, growing, and believing He will ultimately get the glory for “passing the test”.
The devil cannot just “test” us. He has to get permission. Yep, permission from THE ONLY One who can give it, God Himself. While rereading the Job story I was reminded how the devil had to get God’s permission to test Job. God granted the devil permission because He knew Job would ultimately make the right choices due to the relationship they had with each other.
I know we’re supposed to find “joy” in all the tests and trials we go through but sometimes that’s just downright hard! And this journey with Ann-Ashton is one of those times.
Ann-Ashton has been “tested” most of her life struggling with school and learning in general. I’m sure she hasn’t found all of this very “joyful”.
I recently bought her a coffee mug with this phrase “Coffee because ADULTING is hard” because sometimes, it REALLY IS!
In the middle of our conversations with the doctor, we learned that some of what we did as a family may have affected her ability to learn during her middle school and high school years (the divorce, family dynamics, etc.). Her dad and I beat ourselves up for that one but realized we can’t go back. All we can do now is go forward.
So, whatever type of “test” you might be going through right now please know it is not God testing you. You may feel way below average while you’re going through this test, but know He may be allowing something to happen in your life that will ultimately lead you back to Him giving Him all the glory.
You may feel like you’re being tested and stretched in ways you could never imagine and possibly see no way out. Well, know there is hope and He will ALWAYS provide a way out and He will ALWAYS equip you with the tools to get there.
No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.
~1 Corinthians 10:13~
I am Loved
At the end of our time with the psychologist, she turned and asked Ann-Ashton if she had any further questions. Ann-Ashton, still a bit teary-eyed, said no, but that she knew as bad as the news felt right now, she would be glad we did this for her later in her life. (I’m tearing up, again, just trying to type those words!)
Her “testing” was not meant for harm, but for good.
Her “testing” was only a challenge God knew she could handle.
Her “testing” was faith that she needed help and now she will get it.
And, ultimately, her “testing” showed her how truly LOVED she really is. She is loved by her parents who only want to see her succeed. She is loved by a doctor who only wants to help her. And she is loved by her Heavenly Father who loves her unconditionally.
Love my Baby Girl! You are SO loved!
In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and 1full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.
~1 Peter 1:6-9~
Here’s wishing all of my fellow teachers a great beginning to a new school year! May all of your classes challenge you where you will seek His guidance for ALL things. May all of the students going back to school be excited and opened to learning. And remember,
“Ancora imparo!” (You are still learning!) ~Michelangelo~