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.
Often, a public school has to see 2 or 3 students they have given up on succeed, by getting the right type of tutoring after school, before they will partner with those tutors and accept dyslexia, as this parent shared.
My husband is dyslexic and all 3 of my kids are as well – to varying degrees. My oldest daughter (who is severely dyslexic) is now in 7th grade and has made high honor roll once again!
This is the same child who was minimized by her teacher in 1st grade, who told me that she would never read above a 3rd grade level, if that, and that she would ALWAYS struggle. But that teacher was wrong.
McKeighla is about to start Level 9 of the Barton System. Her confidence, and her ability to “own” her strengths and weaknesses, have become an inspiration to her teachers and her peers.
Our small community has embraced my tutoring services, and the school district has now become a wonderful support to both my daughter, and myself, as I daily pull students from their classroom to tutor privately, on the public school campus, during school hours. Each and every student that I work with (all 13 of them) have shown tremendous growth. At first, some teachers claimed their improving scores were just “a fluke.” But now their improving scores are known as “Barton scores.”
This past year, I opened an office in Mount Vernon and work there 2 days a week. I have students who travel from as far north as the Canadian border, and as far south as Seattle. And we are starting a dyslexia support group for parents in Skagit Valley.
The passion and drive I feel for these kiddos, and for this field, reaches the bottom of my soul. So thank you, Susan, for pioneering a way for parents to get involved, for empowering us with the knowledge to make a difference, and for all your support which allows us to be courageous and confident.
Certified Barton Tutor and Dyslexia Specialist in La Conner, WA
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.
If you cannot afford testing, do what this mom did.[audio https://brightsolutionsdyslexia.files.wordpress.com/2013/01/if-you-cannot-afford-testing.mp3]
My son had always struggled with reading. I knew something was not quite right but never could figure it out. I asked his first grade teacher if it could be dyslexia. She assured me it was not, and she was not worried about his reading. She was concerned about his lack of focus.
But at the beginning of 3rd grade, one of the items on my son’s school supply list was an NIV Bible. I bought it . . . and cried. I knew he could not read it, not even close. He could not even read the children’s Bible we had at home. He was CLEARLY far behind, and it was much more than just being distracted.
So I started to do some research on the computer. Why could he read a word in one sentence but not the next? Why were all his words missing vowels? Why couldn’t he sound out words? He had plenty of phonics instruction. Why did a clock baffle him so much? Why was he still reversing letters and had handwriting that looked like he was just learning to print?
I found your website. There it was! I could check off about 95% of the symptoms. My son had dyslexia!!
Yet when I shared this with my son’s school, they were skeptical and encouraged us to get formal testing because they did not think it was his issue. But the cost of professional testing was high. We had to decide which was more important: get a diagnosis (knowing his school did not have the right type of help) or skip that and go directly to the solution.
We chose to get the Barton Reading & Spelling system so I could tutor him myself.
We have now been using it for 2 years, after school twice a week, and we are half way through Level 7.
Recently, we had to miss church. So I encouraged my boys to read a Bible story and I pulled out our children’s Bible that I knew my son could now read. Instead, he pulled out his NIV Bible, that same Bible I wept over 2 years ago, the same one I feared my son would never be able to read. He opened it up and read aloud while his 3 younger brothers listened.
He enjoys reading now, and his fifth grade teacher has never mentioned “lack of focus” or “not being prepared.” Instead, she talks about my son’s amazing “writer’s voice,” and his grades are all A’s and B’s.
My son embraces his dyslexia. We do not romanticize it or deny that it makes things hard for him. But he knows that the brain differences that gave him grief with his reading and spelling . . . are the same brain differences that created his amazing imagination, his fantastic building skills, and his love of music.
Thank you, Susan, for the work you do. It has clearly changed my son’s life.
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.
I received the following email from a Dyslexia Specialist who is also a Certified Barton tutor.
I am giving an inservice on dyslexia today, so I had to cancel one of my student’s tutoring sessions.
When the child asked me what I was going to be doing, I explained. My student asked if he could give a message to the teachers. I said, “Sure.”
His response was so poignant that I asked a few others this week if they had anything they wanted to say as well. I was surprised just how many had something they wanted to get off their chests!
Below is a sampling of just a few.
JEFFREY, first grade:
If you are going to teach me the way I can’t learn, then I will not learn, and I will be mad and frustrated!
If you teach me the way I can learn, then I will try and try, and try, and try and try so hard, and I will never give up!
ANGELA, second grade:
I would like to tell teachers that struggling is hard.
If you don’t know how to teach me, then find someone who does.
And while they are teaching me, be nice to me! I am trying so hard and I need my teacher to understand that.
DAVID, second grade:
Give me more time to finish my work. I can’t work as fast as the other kids.
Even better would be if you gave me less work. I would still learn, and then I would have time to play.
LISA, ninth grade:
My teacher told the class that I have dyslexia so they would understand why I don’t want anybody else correcting my papers. Do you know what she told them? She said that I had trouble mixing up my Bs and Ds!
Is that really all she thinks dyslexia is? Don’t teachers want to know any more than that?
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.