This long post is worth reading — especially with school starting in just one month.
My husband and three children have dyslexia.
I also teach at the local public school. Recently, during a lunch break in the staff lounge, a high school teacher shared that when she has to teach reading to her students, she has them read “baby books.” When the students ask why, she tells them, “Because you did not learn to read when you were supposed to.”
At that point I left the room, and cried. I was so hurt by what she said. At the time I could not talk about it without crying. (I still can’t). So I wrote this letter. Please share it in your book.
What an inspiring discussion the teachers were having at lunch today. I enjoyed hearing about, and sharing, how hard our students have been working. I am not sure if you noticed, but there came a point when I stopped talking. Probably not, since there was so much going on in the staff lounge. I would like to share with you the reason that I shut down.
You began talking about one of your students. You shared your frustration that she is not reading at grade level. You said her atrocious writing is filled with spelling errors of simple words, like they and does, which she spells t-h-a-y and d-o-s-e. There are no capitals at the beginning of her sentences, and rarely is there any punctuation. Her handwriting is so sloppy that you can barely make out the words that she somehow managed to spell correctly. On top of that, she does not know her basic math facts and can’t get through a majority of the problems you assign, despite the fact that you just spent an hour teaching that lesson to the class.
You wondered why her parents did not care enough to work with her nightly. Surely her spelling and math would improve if they would just make her practice every night. You mentioned how lazy she is, how she could care less about the quality of her work, and how she puts forth zero effort towards improving.
You claimed you had tried everything and you do not know what to do with her anymore, so you will probably just end up passing her to the next grade level like all the other teachers have done.
Believe me, I understand your frustrations. It is difficult working with students like this. If they would just try harder, they would improve. Right?
I would like to introduce you to my daughter. She is excited to be entering high school this year. She is beautiful, polite, responsible, funny, caring . . . I could go on and on.
She participates in 4-H and showed her pig this year at the fair. She made over seven hundred dollars. She put some of the money into her savings account. Some will be used to purchase her next pig, and she can’t wait to go shopping and buy her own school clothes and school supplies with the remaining money.
She also participates in gymnastics, which she started when she was 18 months old.
When children are around her, they gravitate towards her. She loves to take care of babies and toddlers.
She enjoys preparing delicious food for others. Perhaps you would like to come to our home one evening. She will prepare her Pizza Chicken for dinner and Gelato for desert. She really is a great teenager.
Yet my daughter is scared and anxious about starting high school this year. She has dyslexia, and as a result, she is not reading at grade level. Her creative writing is filled with spelling errors of simple words, like they and does, which she spells t-h-a-y and d-o-s-e. There are no capitals at the beginning of her sentences, and rarely is there any punctuation. Her handwriting on school work is so sloppy because she does not want her teachers and classmates to see that she has trouble spelling.
On top of that, she does not know her basic math facts and can’t get through a majority of the problems assigned to her, even though her teacher just spent an hour teaching the lesson.
You wonder why her parents do not care enough to work with her nightly. Surely her spelling and math would improve if they would just make her practice every night.
I love my daughter more than you can imagine. But I no longer force her to practice math flashcards or to write the weekly spelling words over and over every night. I know it will not help her. She will be able to memorize them temporarily, but believe me, she will not remember them the next day.
I know that she puts her brain to the test every day by concentrating so much that it often makes her feel sick. I know that she has put herself down all day long while in school and that she needs to build herself back up at night, so she can go through the same ordeal the next day.
Those are the reasons I no longer fight the “homework wars” every night. Instead, I enjoy the evening with my daughter as she cares for her pigs and rabbits, and as she does front handsprings across the yard.
Children do not want to, or choose to, have dyslexia. They want to learn. They are very frustrated that they can not learn to read like their classmates, that their spelling never seems to turn out right, that they can not memorize their math facts, and that they get lost in multiple step math problems. They can not try any harder than they already do because their brain will not let them.
As a teacher, I understand your frustrations. It is difficult working with students like this. I regret having made some of the same comments as you in the past. I never imagined that I would be the mother of a child with a learning disability. After all, I am a teacher.
As a mother, I am begging you to hang in there and not give up on your students, because if you do, you will be giving up on my daughter. They need you.
So please, let me be the mother who loves my daughter and encourages her to discover all she is capable of, and you be the teacher that encourages her and allows her to show what she is capable of.
A Mother who is also a School Teacher
I love it when teachers attend my free presentations on dyslexia – because they share amazing stories of how hard they worked to make it through college:
A new teacher shared:
I saw you speak about a month ago. Let me first say that you were wonderful! I am a new teacher, 24 years old, and I went with some coworkers. We left thinking that every educator should be required to attend one of your seminars.
I now think I might have dyslexia. I always felt that I was slower to understand things in school because I couldn’t read as well as the other students. I remember my teacher putting me in a remedial reading class. I got out of it by faking that I needed glasses and that was the reason why I couldn’t read. After that, I got really good at faking reading.
I graduated from college after struggling many nights trying to read the textbooks and just giving up. I am sad to admit this, but I am a college graduate who has never read an entire chapter of any textbook. It’s not that I didn’t want to read the books. It’s just that I would start reading, but I would get lost. I kept having to reread the same page over and over again, reading was exhausting, and I could not understand what I was reading because I read so slowly and inaccurately. Yet when someone explained it to me verbally, I would instantly understand it.
Even though I never read a full chapter of any textbook in college, I did end up graduating with an overall 3.1 GPA.
A teacher at a private Christian school shared:
Your talk was amazing. I have a degree in Theology, but I stopped buying textbooks after the first semester because I never read more than the first few pages of them.
Instead, I formed study groups where we would TALK about the subject and share the information that “each person” learned from reading the textbook.
I also loved the literature courses. I could not read all of the words in the books, but I could guess at enough of them to follow the storyline. I also discovered that many of “the classics” could be downloaded as text files, so I could use Dragon Naturally Speaking to read them out loud to me.
A teacher pursuing her Master’s degree shared:
I am 56 years old and have dyslexia. I see myself in so many of your descriptions: the disorganized desk with piles of paper, the messy room, the right versus left problems, and spelling. Lord, I can’t spell anything.
Technology tools, especially spell and grammar checkers, have been a saving grace for me. I use them constantly. My wonderful husband has also read and corrected the spelling, punctuation, and grammar in my papers, my emails, and my class work for the last 30 years.
I am now going for a Master’s degree. It is sooooo frustrating that I can make A’s on all of my discussions and demonstration classes, but I can barely get a C on multiple choice tests. I run out of time on every test because when I read the questions, I skip words or misread them. So I have to check and recheck to be sure I’ve read each long convoluted question, and each possible answer, correctly. I can then choose the correct answer, but it takes me longer. Time always runs out before I finish the test.
From a caring teacher and friend:
When you mentioned that dyslexics have poor written expression – even though they have a clear grasp of the concept when discussing it orally, I thought of a young lady I met in college. We started out studying together, but eventually, I became her scribe. When we discussed a topic, she clearly knew what she was talking about. But when she came back with a paper she had written on that same topic, it made very little sense. She would ask me to look over and edit her papers, but this was such a struggle for both of us (her during the original writing, and me during the proofreading) that it simply became easier to write together sitting in front of the computer. She would talk, and I would type.
She shared that she had a reading and writing learning disability and had gotten an IEP in third grade. She also shared that she had been told by several teachers that she was unlikely to graduate from high school and probably would never be able to attend college.
But she had an amazing work ethic. She worked her butt off. And she earned a Master’s degree in Elementary Education and graduated Magna Cum Laude.
Her story stuck with me, and I’ve been so angry at those teachers who dared to make such a negative prediction to this obviously bright young woman. I can’t help but wonder how different her educational experience would have been if only her teachers had known about dyslexia.
Most teachers really do want to learn how to help struggling students, as this Dyslexia Specialist (and former Waldorf teacher) shared:
I gave a workshop entitled “Dyslexia and Educational Support” last week at the annual Waldorf Teachers Conference.
Even though I was given the very last time slot on the very last day, my presentation was full.
The teachers were so grateful for information which opened their eyes to the possibility of dyslexia as the explanation they had been looking for, even if they didn’t realize it before. A few were already knowledgeable, a few were skeptical yet open, and for a few, it was life changing.
One teacher came up to me during a break, shared that she was dyslexic, and that her school was suggesting that she might not be able to continue teaching her class past third grade because her written end-of-year reports were so poorly written — despite her using a spell checker. She said, “I’d rather be in a room full of scorpions and snakes than have to write those reports.”
This was one of the most gratifying experiences I have ever had.
Susan Barton coordinates a Dyslexia Speakers Bureau. So if you need a good speaker on Dyslexia to educate teachers at a staff meeting, an inservice training day, or a conference, fill out the form at:
Susan will then connect you to a good speaker in your area.
This heartwarming email from a parent made my day.[audio https://brightsolutionsdyslexia.files.wordpress.com/2013/01/what-a-great-teacher.mp3]
I want to share something amazing about my son who was recently diagnosed with dyslexia.
This morning his teacher stopped me to tell me what an intuitive student he was. She said his character is well beyond his years and that it never wavers. She also said he is such a beneficial member of his class because of his compassion and ability to self reflect, and that he has basically set the standard for the class with his global “out of the box” thinking.
When my son was recently diagnosed with dyslexia, I did a lot of research. I found the information on your website about the strengths of dyslexics. That teacher was mentioning many of those strengths.
So I was beaming with pride when I told her of his diagnosis.
Thank you for sharing how children with dyslexia are special. It was nice to hear confirmation of what I have always thought of my son — and I now know why he is so special. He’s dyslexic.
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!
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?
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.
Dear Ms. Barton,
I just finished watching the Dyslexia: Symptoms & Solutions video on your website.
I am a permanently certified Elementary Teacher with a Master’s degree in Reading & Literacy, but I am angry and embarrassed that I received no instruction or information about dyslexia in six years of college. You are absolutely right that we need to get this information into college prep courses and out to teachers in our local districts.
Last year, I had a bright girl who struggled with reading. Her reading assessments made little sense. Her reading rate was very slow and her fluency was low, but her reading comprehension was excellent. I recommended her for testing, but the school’s testing showed there was not a large enough discrepancy to qualify for special education or even accommodations. So she struggled with reading the rest of the year, despite working very hard. The obvious difference between her intelligence and her reading struggles continued to bother me.
I ran into her family a few months ago, and I asked about her reading progress. Her mom was worried because her daughter had made no progress. The mom also shared that she, herself, had struggled with reading as a child, and she wondered if her children inherited it from her. She claimed she had been telling teachers of her concern since her daughter had been in first grade, but everyone assured her it was just developmental.
When the mom suggested that her daughter might be dyslexic, I dismissed it. I mean, with my educational background, I should know about something like that, right?
Fortunately, I did the one thing those other teachers failed to do: I looked into it anyway. As I began my research, I was disappointed to find only 2 books about dyslexia at our local bookstore. But one was Dr. Sally Shaywitz’s Overcoming Dyslexia. I was amazed at how much I learned about dyslexia. And then I found your website and learned even more.
I now realize I’ve had several other students who also exhibited this odd mix of reading struggles and high intelligence, and I continue to worry about them still today.
I have decided to write an article for NEA Today (The National Education Association magazine). I recently searched for “dyslexia” on the magazine’s website and received zero responses. This is a magazine which is read by many teachers, but it appears they have not had one article in recent history about this learning difference.
That just doesn’t make sense when 20% of our population is dyslexic and many are not even aware of it.
Teachers are often just as frustrated with the special ed system as parents, as this teacher shared in an email to me.
I’m a 5th grade teacher and I am on the internet trying to find out about dyslexia. I have a student who has concerned me since the beginning of the school year. She gets her d’s and b’s confused. Sometimes she can spell “does”, but other times, she spells it “dose.” She has many other quirky things in her writing — too many to list. Her writing is VERY phonemic, but the phonics are off. I became concerned even more when I asked her to copy something straight from a piece of paper into her notebook. Once seeing what she copied, there were numerous mistakes. I was confused because she had the paper right in front in front of her to copy back and forth.
I then requested an SST meeting, but all the came from it were 2 recommendations: to have her put a ruler under her sentences when she is reading, and when she was done with a piece of writing to have her look it over with me and have her highlight all the errors. (It was felt that she was rushing through her work, so if she highlighted it, she would see that she had to slow down and take her time). I was quite disappointed with the meeting because I felt like nothing was accomplished. I teach this student every day and I was sure those recommendations would not work.
But I tried them. I sat with her while we looked at a copied piece of work she had completed. When she went through the writing by herself, she highlighted 17 mistakes. I then sat with her and found 41 mistakes.
After a few weeks, I was not seeing any improvement. There were numerous mistakes on her spelling homework and low spelling test scores on Friday. She was getting frustrated because she studied so hard. She is also not doing well in math.
Yet she is a very bright girl. Socially she is well liked, and you would never know she was struggling so much within her schoolwork.
It kills me to see her reaction when she gets anything back from me (or other students) and sees all of her mistakes. I don’t want her self-esteem to suffer. I just feel “something” needs to be done.
So I asked for another meeting, this time with the principal present. My principal saw her work and was on my side, as my principal is dyslexic. At the meeting, it was decided that we would recommend she be tested to see what was going on.
A week later, the school psychologist came into my classroom and asked to see samples of her work. When I shared my concerns, he told me that: “There is no such thing as dyslexia.” Then he claimed this student just needs to get taught basic spelling rules, and I should give her 5 new spelling rules a week. The meeting went on and on, and I was so upset by it. I again felt NOTHING was accomplished.
I then asked to meet with my principal again, who let me know that no follow-up would be done because this student does not stand out as needing special ed. I’m so tired of having to follow the “appropriate” procedures, and I am upset that just because my student isn’t totally failing, no testing will be done. I’ve been a teacher for 6 years and obviously, something is wrong — and has been for a long time. I looked at her kindergarten report card, which showed she was having difficulty with phonemic awareness.
I just want to know your thoughts. Am I crazy for fighting so much to get her tested, or do you really just think this student just needs to be taught the basic spelling rules again?