“Don’t even waste your time applying to Texas Tech University,” my high school counselor told me at the start of my senior year.
My name is Blake Sammons, and I’ve had to overcome many obstacles in my life to be the teacher that I am today.
When I was seven-and-a-half years old, I was diagnosed with dyslexia and attention deficit disorder. I started receiving special education services soon after the diagnosis, with a large set of accommodations. Oftentimes I had to read things three or four times in order to comprehend the text because I had to unscramble the text in my mind. I usually had to learn by failure, then re-learn, and then re-test. English was always my worst subject, and most of all I hated writing, because that was when my disabilities showed through the most. Although there were many teachers who taught me skills to overcome my disabilities, more often than not, I learned from my own failures, and how to creatively self-teach to overcome those obstacles in the future.
School was no easy task for me, and if one were to ask my parents (Joe and Sue), they would say I had to learn the “hard way” all my life. Fortunately, my parents taught me to never give up and to try my hardest no matter the outcome. My parents have always been my biggest support system, and still are today. They taught me to dream big, and with their continued guidance and determination, I know how to accomplish small goals in order to achieve larger goals. It was because of my parents and my high school teachers that I graduated from Ronald Reagan High School in 2004. Now, looking back, I realized I learned to cope only with the help of my teachers and my parents.
I had not yet learned to cope with my disabilities on my own until my sophomore year at Texas Tech University. I took Brian Thornton’s creative writing class, and at the start of each class he had all of the students take the first 15 minutes of class to “free-flow write.” These sessions, which I came to call “writing recesses,” gave my inability to keep my thoughts on one subject their own space to be free to explore and release the creativity that I had been taught to harness.
Things finally “clicked,” and after I graduated with my bachelor’s degree from Texas Tech in 2010, I joined the outside sales force, and completed two years of lateral sales job moves. I was successful, but not happy to work nights and weekends. I wanted to change jobs again when one of my best friends, Matt Milantoni, helped me find a career where my compassion, patience, ability to build rapport and communicate would thrive. I quit my job, became a substitute teacher, and was accepted in to the Graduate Teacher Certification Program at Texas A&M University-San Antonio.
At that time in my life I listened to a motivational speaker named Joel Weldon. One of the many things I learned from him was to, “turn your greatest weaknesses in to your greatest strengths,” which had a profound effect on me. I have always been embarrassed of my disabilities, and considered them to be my greatest weaknesses. I chose special education, because I wanted to help kids learn to cope with their disability at an earlier age than I did. I finally had the opportunity to turn my disabilities into my greatest strengths, and teach from personal experience of overcoming.
Over the course of the 2012-2013 school year, I was a substitute teacher by day, and a graduate student by night. During the summer of 2013, I passed my special education certification, obtained a teaching position at MacArthur High School, and got married to the love of my life, Amanda Sammons, all in a two-month span.
When I began my first year of teaching in August of 2013, little did I know at the time that I would learn more in this school year than any other school year in my life. I learned when to use humor, and that there are some students who cannot get back on task after the use of humor. I had to adapt my humorous style of teaching to each class, due to how the students reacted to me and if they could get back on task after. I learned how to utilize teachable moments and the use of effective questions, to help guide students to the answer themselves.
I believe I had success because I relied on my experiences as a child, and how I would want to be treated in the same situations. I treat my students like I want to be treated, and imitated the teaching styles of my favorite teachers growing up. I learned from the mistakes I made and now teach how to overcome prior to making the same mistakes. I believe I am able to succeed as a teacher because of this unique perspective of being on the other side of the desk – I personally understand the struggles and frustrations that my students experience. Most of all, I remember how I needed my teachers to believe in me, and when they did, I thrived. I always remember that sometimes all the students need is someone to believe in them, because in some cases, I might be the only one who does.
Each year, the Council for Learning Disabilities recognizes outstanding teachers who are CLD members and who consistently provide quality instruction to students with learning disabilities. Outstanding teachers are dedicated to implementing evidence-based instructional practices and collaborating with classroom teachers and other service providers to greatly improve the quality of education for all struggling learners.
On June 11, I received notification that I received the 2014 CLD Outstanding Teacher of the Year Award. I am so thankful and so grateful for all of the opportunities and support that my teachers, professors, friends and family have provided me.
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Thanks to my amazing support team, I am now proud to say, my name is Blake Sammons, I have ADD and dyslexia, I have my master’s degree in Special Education, and I am a special education teacher.
*Featured/top image: (From left) Blake Sammons stands with MacArthur ninth graders Evan Caveda, Celiena Cristanelli, and Dayton Cearley. Courtesy photo.