Thornbushes, Thistles, and Weeds

September 5, 2019

Dear Families,

My reflections of late led to a place that suggests I need to reshare my daughter’s academic journey with you. I, of course, obtained her permission. I share it not for sympathy. I share it not for any kind of recognition. It is, for me, a journey of heartache and tears and failure.  But, in the end, it is a journey of perseverance, determination, and empowerment.


Maddy’s academic journey paved its way through thorn bushes, thistles, and weeds. In second grade, her homework took hours. I mean hours. By third grade, she convinced herself she would never graduate from high school. I battled for her education. I mean battled.  I cried. I yelled. I cried. I pleaded. I cried. Before she entered our family, I earned a graduate degree in curriculum and instruction. I earned awards for my teaching. But I could not help my own daughter.

Determined I needed to help her before any other child, I walked away from the classroom convinced I would never return.  Our journey together took years.  Her standardized test scores in 3rd and 4th grade devastated me. To this day, her CSAP and TCAP scores from 5th, 6th, and 7th grade remain unopened. But during her years of struggle, she battled. She learned self-advocacy. She learned empowerment. She learned independence. By the end of 7th grade, the light inside clicked. In 8th grade, she earned a membership into the National Junior Honor Society. Still, in high school she continued to struggle; but she had tools.

Her freshman year, Maddy maintained a cumulative GPA of 4.0.  I know it sounds amazing.  But her academic battle raged. At every opportunity, she did extra credit. Her teachers pleaded with us at conferences to get her to stop. She assured them she needed it. At the end of the semester, her teachers flooded our inbox, baffled. She failed every single final. EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. She never gave up. She is my hero. I obtained her permission to share her story for many, many reasons. If I share them all, this letter will never end.  She graduated with honors three years ago. She earned, I repeat, she earned an academic scholarship to three universities and found her photography published in the New York Times her senior year.

The grades that littered her report card until 8th grade resulted in a constant stream of tears. But she overcame it all because she battled.  I respectfully request that you let your child battle. I blinked and found my daughter entering her junior year in college. The key phrase is “her junior year.” She changed her major from Photography and Communication to Behavioral Science with a minor in Youth and Adolescent Disorders. When Paul and I asked her why, her response spoke volumes.

“How am I going to help people hiding behind a camera lens?”

I promise you this. If you can relate to Maddy’s story, your battles won’t always be pretty. In fact, if you are like me, they will be excruciating. Hours will be spent reviewing sight words that don’t seem to stick. Multiple choice quizzes with be a source of great angst.

But as I opened my eyes, on the other side of my blinking, I can tell you the following with utmost integrity. I would walk the same road in a heartbeat. I would shed each tear again. I would let her struggle all over again. I would let her fail over and over again. Why? She personifies resilience. She embraces challenges head on. She works hard to grow and learn. Unlike many of her peers, she stood on her own two feet and made her way.

If your student does not struggle, rest assured. I have one of those, too. Tune in next week, when I share the joys of raising an academic powerhouse. And by joys, I mean frustrations and annoyances that are second to none.

Honored to Serve You All,

Janet Worley

Food for Thought: Cool at 13; Adrift at 23

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