A t the ripe old age of five, I discovered I was dumb. Our pre-1A class was learning to read, and my best friend, Shaina, was very good at kametz alef uh. I wasn’t.

I spent the first few years of my elementary school career in a state of constant terror, always afraid the teacher would call on me to read, answer a question, or, worst of all, translate something from Hebrew to English. I was bad enough at English; Hebrew was a nightmare for me.

It took me until third or fourth grade to master the mechanics of reading English. Even then, I read slowly, stopping frequently to figure out what the next word said. And even when I managed to sound out the words, I still had no idea what they meant. If the teacher asked me, “What happened in this story, Avigail?” I would have no clue.

So I devised all sorts of tricks to prevent teachers from calling on me. I always sat in the back of the classroom or off to the side, I never made eye contact with teachers, and I never raised my hand to ask or answer a question. I also made sure to keep my hair long and in my face. This blocked my peripheral vision and helped me feel safely hidden. My teachers thought I was quiet, when really I was just trying to stay under the radar and keep them from calling on me in class.

My efforts to remain unnoticed succeeded, for the most part, until fifth grade. At that point, my teachers began giving me modified tests, and private tutors would take me out of class. Modified tests helped a little, especially when Hebrew tests were given in English, but the tutors didn’t help at all.

In sixth grade, my teacher took me out and did the tests with me. That just made me feel stupid. After one test she said to me, “Do you think you’re stupid, Avigail? Because you’re not, really. Some people just need some more help.” I know she meant to be kind, but when she said that, I felt even more stupid. To a smart girl she would never have said such a thing.

When I didn’t do my homework, I would lie to my teachers and say I had left it at home. This way, they still yelled at me, but not as much as they would have yelled had I admitted I hadn’t done it.

All homework was torture for me, but parshah sheets were the worst. I could never find the answers in the Chumash, which I could barely read, let alone understand. The only times I brought my homework to school completed were the times when my mother gave in and did it “with me” (read: for me).

When I was in seventh grade, my mother took me for a comprehensive educational evaluation. Turned out I didn’t have a learning disability, but I did have mild ADD. Yet another way of saying I was stupid. (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 688)