Secrets for Success: Yahya (Juan) Gairey

Special Education Teacher

“I was full of anger and resentment. I got over it by being successful.”

Image of Yahya (Juan) GaireyAt the request of a particularly persistent high-school math teacher, Yahya was tested and diagnosed as a gifted LD. This is a label he has refused to accept even to this day. His initial reaction was confused rejection: “Stupid… but smart… what is that?” Today, a special education teacher himself, Yahya continues to believe that students with conditions similar to his should be treated as having a Learning Difference and not labeled with "disability". He feels that this change in terminology would be a crucial step towards a more realistic understanding of so-called LD's.

Yahya was frustrated by some teachers who would not allow him to focus on his strengths and pressured him because of his weaknesses. Adding the racial realities of growing up as an African-Canadian in the seventies, unfair and unconstructive treatment motivated Yahya to become a teacher. The other side of the coin was that he had positive experiences with a few caring teachers and a supportive family who would not give up on a tough and angry kid. They gave him the courage to focus on his strengths and deal with his learning challenges. They told him that if he really wanted to get back at society, he should strive to become successful. That is the path he chose.

At York, Yahya received help from Learning Disability Services and the Writing Center and used accommodations for writing his exams, but he never wanted to be associated with a LD label. For him, the important thing to remember is that everyone has weaknesses and strengths. Once, when he was asked to do a math problem—an area of weakness—he was told, “But this is so easy, anyone could do it!” Yahya, an artist, retorted, “Anyone can draw this [referring to a human face], why don’t you try?” When the teacher could not draw, he felt he had made his point: what is easy for one person may not be easy for another. Yahya says, “Only when the educational system values diversity and accommodates accordingly will we have true equality.”