Category Archives: RSP – Spec. Ed.

Special Ed Teachers Can Also Be Heroes

I recently received this heartwarming email from a Special Ed teacher, who is also one of my heroes.  

I am having amazing success using the Barton System in my resource room.

A young man transferred to my school at the beginning of 7th grade, barely able to read at a second grade level. He absolutely hated school and was often absent.

His parents had tried everything. They had spent thousands of dollars sending him to Sylvan and to private tutors.

They heard about the success I was having with the Barton Reading & Spelling System. After his school refused to get the Barton System, they fought for 2 years to get an inter-district transfer so he could attend my school and work with me.

Success-Linari

He is about to graduate from 8th grade with excellent grades, perfect attendance, and is now reading at a 7th grade level. He was even elected by his peers to be their Student Body President.

Yet there is no one at the high school he will attend next year who teaches the Barton System. So a group of my students (who are now in the higher levels of the Barton System) are determined to start a Barton tutoring program there – and they have volunteered to be the tutors.

Geri Linari, Special Ed Teacher
Cuddleback Elementary
Fortuna, CA

Trying to make a difference

Special Ed teachers are so frustrated with the school system that they often leave and become private tutors, as this one shared in a recent email: 

Susan, I have a real passion for the students who don’t catch on to reading and spelling when taught using regular curriculum.

In fact, that’s why I switched from being a regular ed teacher to a special ed teacher. I attended several Orton-Gillingham workshops and seminars, and I bought the first few Barton levels with my own money to use with my LD students.

For the past 2 years, I taught Barton as best I could within the special ed system – and got some fabulous results. My principal was amazed at the increased reading levels of my students.

Trying to make a difference

But with all the “red tape” and political stuff we have to deal with, the special ed system does not allow me to do what I am I really passionate about: meeting each student’s individualized needs.

I am not allowed to spend enough time, with the correct resources, in a small enough group to help my students become the best they can be.

Sadly, I know I cannot change the special ed system. So I have decided to leave and start offering one-on-one Barton tutoring.

I know not every parent will be able to afford to hire me. But I would rather serve a few children well, so they reach their potential, then continue to serve many students poorly.

Wish me luck. This is a big leap of faith, and quite a change for me. But it’s the only way I can do what I’m passionate about: helping these bright kids the right way.

Dyslexia still haunts me

When adults share the emotional pain caused by dyslexia, and how it continues to impact them even as adults, it will give you the anger and courage needed to fight hard for laws that require early screening and early intervention.

I’m 23 years old now, and I barely graduated from high school. My fiancee and I just watched your dyslexia video, and the story you told about your nephew Ben made me cry. It brought back many painful memories. I am like Ben, but unlike Ben, I never got the right help. I would like to tell you my story, and then I’d like to ask you a few questions.

In kindergarten, I had to walk home. It was only about three or four blocks, but I would often get lost. Also, I still remember getting criticized by my teachers, classmates, and even my own parents when I was falling behind in reciting my ABC’s, my 1-10’s, and even my phone number and address.

They almost retained me in Kindergarten, but my mother talked them out of it.

In first grade, I started to learn to read, but again, I was falling behind. All the way through school, I feared my turn to read in class. It’s funny how good memories are sometimes forgotten, but bad memories never go away. When I was trying to learn to read, I can still remember my father telling me that I was lazy, and I just wasn’t trying. I guess my tears and frustration weren’t enough proof for him to see how hard I really was trying.

When I finally got tested for dyslexia in 3rd grade, they put me into “Special Ed.” If you ask a child what Special Ed means, they will probably say “retarded.” That’s what my peers called me, and that’s what I thought I was.

My parents sent me to many programs, and spent a lot of money. Yet I’ve held a grudge against my parents for years; I felt they failed me and didn’t try hard enough to get the right type of help. That’s because after years of “help,” I was still the same.

I struggled all the way through high school and barely graduated. In my junior year, the state created a High School Graduation Exam. In order to graduate, you had to pass 3 tests: reading, writing, and math. You could take them 3 times, but if you don’t pass by the end of high school, you only got an “Attendance” certificate. The first time I took it, I somehow passed the reading test. But I failed math and writing.

To this day, I can’t do math. I still mess up on simple things such as adding and subtracting. I still don’t know my multiplication tables. I’ve tried to learn them for years, but I just can’t remember them. I’ll have all the fours mastered one night, but when I try them again the next day, I’ll only remember a few of them. By the following day, I won’t remember any of them.

So I switched to a vocational high school where you could  take construction electricity to earn math credits. In that hands-on class, I was a super star.

But I still could not pass the math portion of the high school exit exam — or the writing part, which you had to do by hand and they graded it on spelling, punctuation, and neatness of handwriting.

Fortunately, many parents in the district (whose kids could not pass the test) fought the district and got them to withdraw the test. So I did graduate after all — with a D average.

After high school, I went from job to job, but I wasn’t happy. I needed a skill, so I turned to the military. I took the ASVAB for the Coast Guard, and once again, I almost failed it. But I scored just high enough to get into a mechanics position.

But Basic Training was a nightmare. I could not memorize and retain information, marching left versus right was almost impossible, and I still could not write down anything. In the end I had a mental breakdown, and got discharged.

That was two years ago, and since then, I’ve been going from one job I hated to the next.

But last January, my finance gave me an ultimatum. “Go back to school and try, or I’m going to leave you.”

So I’m back in school in the diesel mechanics program.

Although the Disabilities Office has provided some software, more time on tests, and a note taker for each of my classes, they are not teaching me how to overcome my dyslexia.

I still can’t spell, do multiplication (or most other math), memorize anything, tell my left from my right, or find my errors when I write. I even make mistakes when filling out a job application.

Yet there is so much I can do. Right now, I work as an assistant maintenance person at the fire department, and I’m good. Really good. I can fix just about anything.

Yet that’s not what this world wants.

I want help to overcome my dyslexia so badly. I will try anything. I just want to be like everyone around me.

If it’s too late for me, then I need to know what to do to help my children when I have them. I do not want them to feel like I do now.

Hopeless, helpless, and sad.

Warn the parents

If you combine the emails I get from teachers with those I get from parents, you can see why so many students with dyslexia drop out of high school.

A caring teacher asked:

I am a first-year 3rd grade teacher.

I have one student in my classroom who is very bright. She does extremely well in all of her subjects, except reading and spelling. Her spelling is atrocious, and so is her handwriting. When she writes the required sentences each week, her sentence structure and words are simplistic and not at all similar to how she speaks.

When reading aloud, she runs over punctuation marks, and she doesn’t even try to sound out unknown words. Even when I help her and eventually tell her the word, she will often not know that very same word when it appears again a page or two later.

Parent-teacher conferences are coming up, and I was wondering if I should warn her parents about the possibility of dyslexia.

Yes,  if you suspect a child may have dyslexia PLEASE mention it to their parents.   They know their child is struggling because they fight the nightly “homework wars.”

If dyslexia is not discovered and dealt with during those early grades, teachers in junior high often complain:

 I cannot thank you enough for your wonderful presentation I attended about 2 weeks ago at my school. I was moved to tears and then later, I became quite angry!

I am a teacher at the school that hosted your presentation. I teach 7th grade English Language Arts, and I’ve been searching for an answer to this question for years by going to conferences, holding discussions with my colleagues, and asking administrators: “What do I do with the students who read at the 2nd grade level in 7th grade?”

I will never understand our approach to education. How can it be that effective reading systems exist, we do not employ them, and yet we are expected to raise their scores and close the gap? (And we call ourselves educators.)

How much longer are we going to allow this farce to continue?

But the real tragedy is what happens to these children in high school.  Their parents send me heart-breaking emails, like the following:

My son has dyslexia, he’s 17, and I don’t know what to do.

He can barely read, he can’t spell, and his special education teacher isn’t helping. He’s slipping away, yet he really is a good kid.

He is giving up. He wants to drop out of high school.

Help. I’m desperate!

Or:

I am dyslexic, but I did not know it until my 6 year old son was diagnosed with it. I suspect 2 of my other children also have it, and ADD as well.

My oldest is 16, and he’s the one I am most concerned about.

The school has always labeled him a “problem kid.” Over the years, I tried everything the teachers suggested. But when their ideas did not work and I went back to them with my own suggestions, I became the enemy. Nothing I suggested was ever tried or accepted.

He is a junior in high school, but he only has the credits of a 9th grader — so he may not graduate. His teachers give up on him and just push him through. He has very low self-esteem, has been in a lot of trouble, and I just discovered he is starting to use drugs.

I feel like I have let him down. I worry that it is too late to help him. What can I do now?

Or:

My nephew, who is 20, has dyslexia but never knew it. School was so awful for him that he dropped out.

He tried to get his GED through a local college program, but it was way over his head. One of the teachers called him “stupid,” so now he will not go back. That is the last thing he needed — as he already had very poor self-esteem.

He has always wanted to be an engineer, but he says he is too stupid to be that — or anything else in life.

I want to help him. If I don’t, he may never be able to get a job, and he will live at home with his mom forever.

All of that pain is preventable if teachers would warn parents when a student shows many of the classic early warning signs of dyslexia, and if parents then got their child the right type of tutoring.

Tutoring is only half the answer

Parents ask why I often state that private schools (such as Montessori, Waldorf, Christian, Catholic or Jewish schools) can be better places for children with dyslexia than public schools.

Private schools often do not know any more about dyslexia than public schools, but they are much more willing to provide free simple classroom accommodations — which are as critical as the right type of tutoring.

A parent of a child in a public school recently sent me a BCC of this email that she sent to her child’s teacher.

Dear Mrs. Smith:

It is 1:45 a.m. and I am not sleeping . . . again.

I am frustrated and hoping for your help.

I waited a few days since Lynn’s IEP meeting before writing this.

I do not want to come off as unreasonable or angry. But I cannot help but feel like the last 2-3 months of the school’s assessments were a massive exercise in futility. I came into the IEP meeting assuming that we were finally going to get Lynn some help and put some modifications and accommodations in place.

Instead . . . well, you were there. We simply restated what had already been established 2 years ago: Lynn is a bright little girl who does not qualify for special education help. I get that. I got that 2 years ago. My question is: what next?

I have spent countless hours and thousands of dollars getting Lynn officially diagnosed. I am paying to have her tutored after school by a Certified Barton tutor. I just need a 504 Plan put into place so we can get some simple free classroom accommodations.

I have been requesting that since the first day of school. It is now March. March !!!

I am more than willing to do my part. I will redouble my efforts to find support outside of school. But how do we get some classroom accommodations?

Compare that to this email from a parent whose child attends a private Christian school.

My son was formally diagnosed with moderate dyslexia in third grade — after a teacher at his private Christian school suggested dyslexia might be the cause of his struggles.

Timmy has hated school with a passion ever since he started Kindergarten. He would wake up every day crying, banging his pillow, and begging not to go to school, saying the work was “just too hard.”

Daily homework assignments went on with hours, and I mean hours, with temper tantrums, constant tears, anger and frustration beyond the roof as I am sure you can imagine.

Before school, Timmy’s personality had always been quiet, content and a deep thinker. You can imagine my horror to see his wonderful demeanor turn into such anger and frustration as each school season progressed.

He had all the early signs of dyslexia, but of course, we never knew what we were looking at. He went through school as this very angry, frustrated child, until finally, his third grade teacher recognized a very obvious problem, and led us to what he so desperately needed.

I am so thankful that he goes to a private school.  Although legally, they do not have to provide accommodations or intervention, his school feels a moral obligation to provide both.

I am starting to see Timmy’s anger and frustration level drop as his reading and spelling is getting better, thanks to his Barton tutoring.

Homework time has become a million times better, thanks to the accommodations he is entitled to when needed.

His creativity is also flourishing. I am blown away by what he understands or creates out of his own observations.

He also has an amazing maturity well beyond his years, and his incredible insight to see and understand things is jaw dropping.

Parents, if your child’s public school refuses to provide accommodations, consider moving your child to a more flexible private school.

Wants a second opinion

Children with dyslexia will often NOT qualify for special education services when tested in first or second (or even third) grade. Yet as the following parent shared, the classic warning signs will already be there, and that’s exactly when a child should start getting the right type of tutoring. 

I am looking for someone who can give me a second opinion on test results of an evaluation done with my 7 year old son, who will be starting 2nd grade in 2 weeks.

First grade was a hard year for him – lots of tantrums and self-esteem problems. We could not figure out where all his anger was coming from until last December, when he started to fall behind in reading. In February it dawned on me that he might have dyslexia. I felt we needed an evaluation so we could start helping him effectively right away and not lose valuable years of reading training.

We had him privately evaluated by an educational psychologist to check for a learning disability because the public school said he was not doing poorly enough for them to do it.

The examiner found a “severe discrepancy” between reading achievement (23 %ile) and IQ (75 %ile), but he did not find a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes, which is why we did not receive a diagnosis of a learning disability.

He did test quite low in auditory processing (19 %ile). He actually scored even lower (at the 1 %ile) in the word discrimination subtest, but the examiner thought that might have been a fluke – because he scored so high in thinking and reasoning (91 %ile) and in the visual-spatial stuff (91 %ile).

The examiner felt my son was a very bright boy and that he would catch up in reading as he matured. He claimed his tantrums were just a cry for attention.

Despite that, my husband and I are still concerned. I really would like someone else to look at his scores for a second opinion because I have read several books and researched dyslexia online – and I see lots of the warning signs in my son.

Is it possible that he still could have dyslexia, but is not far enough behind in school yet to get a diagnosis?

I would really like his teacher to realize he is not being lazy or not paying attention.

I also want to be able to give my son a reason for his difficulties so he’ll know he’s not dumb. We have told him how smart he is, of course, but when he sees how well other kids are reading, he gets frustrated and feels stupid.

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