Signora Bernardo

Tell us about someone (a teacher, parent or friend) who has made a difference in your life, and in what way.

As a teenage girl with hyperlexia – a communications disorder that causes some social problems – my life has had its share of interesting challenges. Although my disorder is not nearly as severe as it was during my childhood, it has left some residual consequences which can be detected by the trained eye. In one recent situation, that trained eye was my wonderful Italian teacher, Mrs. Bernardo. Through Mrs. Bernardo’s continued encouragement and her caring, sensitive heart, I have transformed as a person and have become better able to face difficulties in my life.My relationship with Mrs. Bernardo began when I first entered her Italian 1 classroom. I was extremely excited to take her class – being of partly Italian heritage gave me an appreciation for the language and the motivation to master it. This enthusiasm carried over to the classroom, where I was always eager to learn, speak the language, and help others in the classroom. Unfortunately, I wasn’t noticing that I was beginning to take over the classroom with my chatter, and it was annoying some of my classmates. I was fairly oblivious to this, because hyperlexia often causes those who have it to miss social cues such as annoyance or boredom. I carried on in this manner for about half the year, thinking that I was the star of the class and that my classmates and Mrs. Bernardo all loved me. I was soon going to find out that Mrs. Bernardo did indeed love me – more than I could ever imagine.One afternoon in the middle of the year, I entered my classroom as usual. The day was fairly typical, but when the bell rang, Mrs. Bernardo motioned for me to come over. She slipped me an envelope, saying, “Potete leggerla nella casa,” or “you can read it at home.” At first I thought it was some sort of scholarship opportunity or something she didn’t want leaked to the rest of the class. I dutifully waited until I came home to read it, all the while wondering what it was. When I opened it, I was somewhat surprised to find a long, typed letter, entirely in Italian. I began to read it. The first paragraph consisted of a long, drawn out apology for not writing the letter earlier. I furrowed my brow, bewildered, but I kept on reading. She then began to tell me, bluntly but lovingly, of her observations in the classroom – everything from my excessive chatter to the fact that I tended to monopolize the classroom by answering every question – and that it was beginning to annoy the other students. She assured me that she loved me and wanted to help me in any way possible. By the end of the letter, I felt as if I had been punched in the stomach. But at that moment, I knew I had to tell her everything. With tears in my eyes, I poured my heart out to Mrs. Bernardo in a long letter in halting Italian. I e-mailed it to her, and I soon received a reply. Mrs. Bernardo thanked me for the letter and said that it helped her understand me much more deeply. She also offered to help me work on my behavior not just in the classroom but in general. For a long while I just sat there – I had no idea just how compassionate and caring Mrs. Bernardo really was.Through Mrs. Bernardo’s gentle, loving spirit, I have been inspired to look into myself and monitor myself more closely, which has made a positive difference in my life as a whole. In Mrs. Bernardo I have also gained a lifelong friend, confidante, and “Italian buddy.” My only wish to others is that every hyperlexic teenager – or every teenager in general – has their own “Mrs. Bernardo.”

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