The challenges of a dyslexic teacher

As a dyslexic teacher there are often moments in the classroom when I am caught of guard. These moments seem to come when I am least expecting them and are a reminder of the constant need to create strategies to help me deal with my lack of short term memory. The most notable of these moments come when writing on the board, giving children rewards or consequences and marking children’s work.

I remember one of my first days in the classroom, back when I was a student teacher, when the teacher asked me to scribe as she collected ideas from the children. The children started to share ideas and I started writing and within seconds I realized this wasn’t going to be as easy as it seemed. Not only did I struggle to spell certain words but I also couldn’t keep up with the pace of the children’s answers. I was struggling to remember what they were saying for long enough to write it down. This created a tense situation as I scrambled to keep up, wrote and re-wrote words I couldn’t spell and constantly glanced at the teacher in panic. I quickly realized I needed to create a plan for these kind of situations and over time I have learnt to adapt to scribe/writing by reading around the topic before teaching and learning key spelling words, assigning one member of the class to look up the spelling of tricky words in the dictionary and asking children to repeat their answers twice so that the whole class can process what they have said. All of these strategies create a calmer and less stressful experience for me. I have learnt that it isn’t ‘bad’ to show children that everyone has difficulties and that instead of feeling like an inadequate teacher I can use these situations to model good practise to students.

I have also found that it helps to be honest and open with the children about my dyslexia for a number of reasons. Firstly it helps them to understand that everyone is different and we have to be kind and accommodating to all, secondly it helps me to teach those who are struggling with dyslexia new strategies to help them and finally it makes me as a teacher seem more human as I have difficulties just like they do.

When the whistle goes at the end of break time and the children line up some of them struggle to form a quiet line continuing their sometimes rough games in the line. As a result there are times when we have to take minutes off their Golden Time for ignoring a teacher or distracting other children. last week I was outside at the end of play trying to take playtime minutes off a number of the children in our class however by the time we had walked down the corridor and entered the classroom I had completely forgotten who had lost what. As a result I was unable to follow through with these consequences which the children noticed and could take advantage of in the future. Although this is frustrating I enjoy the challenge of creating a strategy to cope with these issues so that they don’t cause a problem in the future. So the next day I made sure that when I took minutes off a child I moved them to the front of the line so that once back in the classroom it was easy to distinguish between those who had lost minutes and those that hadn’t – an easy solution to an otherwise frustrating problem.

Marking and creating displays can also be problematic when I sometimes struggle to spell the simplest words or use incorrect grammar. This has in the past led to embarrassing situations when senior leaders have noticed a misspelt word or the wrong use of a word such as there. Erasable pens have become a life saver and I now use them to correct mistakes I make or re-write sentences that are grammatically incorrect. In addition I keep a copy of the children’s independent learning resource close by when marking so that I can check any words I am unsure of how to spell whilst correcting their spelling and writing my own comments. In addition I am frank with the staff around me and often ask other members of staff to check displays or for help with a word or sentence. Instead of hiding behind my dyslexia I am open and honest about the help I need and take advantage of the strengths of other staff members.

As well as the basic issues around dyslexia I have found that getting through school with dyslexia has contributed to me suffering from anxiety which still effects my life today. I am therefore aware of the anxiety that children who find school difficult are struggling with and try to put things in place in my classroom that reduce these stresses. I hope this enables me to read the signs of anxiety and intervene before a situation escalates allowing children to discuss their worries and putting in place strategies to help.

Despite the frustrations being dyslexic gives me an important insight into the eyes of a child with learning difficulties especially dyslexia. I am able to better understand the anxiety associated with classroom learning when there is a barrier to a child’s learning. This allows me to create classroom learning experiences which are hopefully more accessible to all students including those who are struggling with learning difficulties. So over time rather than seeing my dyslexia as a hindrance I have come to use it to my advantage making sure that I use the situations that cause me to stress or to struggle to help improve the learning in my classroom.

Contributed by a Dyslexic Teacher

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