Susan is a volunteer blog post editor and translator for the Turner Syndrome Foundation (TSF). Her Turner Syndrome (TS) journey began when she was 19, after testing by the genetics department at her university. She is now 51. While TS can cause some challenges with learning and social skills, Susan’s educational journey demonstrates how one can be successful despite these challenges.
Note: Everyone’s experience is different. This is the account of the educational journey of one woman with TS. Please consult with your doctors or school personnel regarding your or your child’s individual challenges and needs.
“Things don’t always turn out the way you expect them to, and that’s okay. Play to your strengths, and don’t let your weaknesses deter you.”Susan, woman with TS
For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be an attorney. I’m not sure why; nobody in my family is in that profession. Perhaps it’s because, as my mom says, I always loved to talk, question, and debate. At any rate, I always had that in the back of my mind throughout my educational journey. During my K-12 years, I was a “nerd” who loved school. While I had difficultly with math, I still received good grades by taking extra time, working hard, and asking a lot of questions. My verbal and language skills, on the other hand, were very strong, and I fell in love with foreign languages.
In high school, my hardest subject was college algebra. My teacher–aptly named Mr. Battle–was not very patient or understanding, which didn’t help with my aversion to math. In contrast, I thrived in my English and Spanish classes. I was lucky enough to spend my junior year abroad in the Canary Islands, Spain, which was life changing. When the time came to take the SAT, I was dreading the math section. As it turns out, I scored an almost perfect score on the verbal section and a very low score on math, so my overall score was pretty mediocre. While this kept me from getting into my “dream colleges,” it didn’t deter me from seeking a good education.
After graduating from high school, my educational journey continued at the University of Arizona in Tucson, where I was living. My majors were political science and Spanish, and it was a great place to study both. The political science department had a lot of well-known and well-published professors, including many former and future local and state politicians. The Spanish and Portuguese department, for obvious reasons, also had a lot of excellent professors, including some well-known Chicano authors and experts on Mexican literature, film, and theater.
The University of Arizona is a huge school–about 45,000 students at the time–so it was easy to get “lost in the shuffle.” I tried to register for smaller, less popular (but still interesting) classes, so I could get to know my professors and have more access to them. I much preferred these classes over the 300+ student-filled auditoriums. I also involved myself in several on-campus groups and volunteer activities–like the campus crisis line and tutoring students with learning disabilities. Those experiences helped me stay connected in such a large environment.
I was diagnosed with TS during my sophomore year, and that was challenging, since I was living on my own and handled it by myself. The doctors at the University of Arizona Medical Center Genetics Department gave me some information, but really not much. And of course, we did not have Internet back then, so I had to use the library to read articles about the condition. I learned as much as I could, but it was not much. The doctors put me on hormone replacement therapy right away, but I didn’t really have a lot of follow-up.
Change of Plans
When I was ready to graduate with my Bachelor of Arts degree in December of 1990, I still had in my mind that I wanted to be an attorney, specifically a civil rights attorney. So early during my senior year, I took the LSAT entrance exam. I was very nervous about the logic section, which seemed a lot like math. I spent a lot of time studying but probably should have enrolled in an actual preparation course. In the end, I earned an “okay” score, which was not enough to get me into any of the law schools I applied to. I was disappointed but again, not deterred. I had also always thought I would love teaching, and I was really good at languages, so I decided to go to graduate school instead.
In the spring of 1991, I enrolled in the Master of Arts in Hispanic applied linguistics program at the University of Arizona. I immediately applied to be a Graduate Assistant in Teaching, because I wanted to see if I enjoyed teaching. In fact, I loved it. Other than the textbook we used, I had autonomy over the syllabus, lesson plans, and tests for my students. I discovered that I really was a teacher at heart. I did very well in graduate school (even better than I had as an undergrad), probably because I really loved what I was studying. With only a handful of us in the program, we had very small classes, which led to great discussions and input from our professors.
Even though I loved languages, the idea of law school was still stuck in my head. So during my last year of graduate school, I decided to take the LSAT again. I told myself that, if I did not do better that time, it wasn’t meant to be. Well, I did not do better, probably due to lack of preparation time and the fact that all of my graduate work was in Spanish, not English. I was a little heartbroken but decided to focus on my other passion–teaching.
I took a position as an associate professor at the University of Arizona after I graduated and later as an adjunct instructor at various community colleges in Tucson and my home state of Maryland, where I moved back to in 1998. Now I work as a language analyst and editor for the federal government, where I have also taught Spanish and linguistics as an adjunct. Fortunately, my workplace has many educational opportunities to fulfill my love of learning. I have even learned another language (and got paid for doing it!).
Lessons Learned Throughout My Educational Journey
Throughout my educational journey, I have learned several important lessons:
- Never let anyone tell you you can’t do something because you are “different.” The world is full of people who have overcome challenges and succeeded despite the odds. So can you!
- Things don’t always turn out the way you expect them to, and that’s okay. Play to your strengths, and don’t let your weaknesses deter you. No one is good at everything. Find opportunities related to what you’re good at and that allow you to shine.
- Ask for help when you need it. As someone with a chronic condition like TS, you or your child may have certain learning challenges. Groups like TSF have resources to help (see below).
- Learn what makes you happy, and get involved. Find groups or volunteer opportunities in which you can meet like-minded people and make a difference.
- Be mindful of your social skills and learning style when deciding on colleges or universities. Is a small college better for you? Does the institution have strong programs in your field? Does it have varied extracurricular and social activities? What about resources for students with learning disabilities? And reasonable class sizes? Do your research! That being said, college is not for everyone, and that’s okay, too.
- Being successful in your educational journey requires hard work. As a language teacher, I have always told my students that time-on-task is the biggest predictor of success. I think the same is true for other disciplines.
Written by Susan Herman, TSF volunteer blog post editor and translator.
Read recent posts related to educational experiences of other people with TS on the TSF blog.