Parents who are former teachers often feel the most guilt, as this parent shared:
I cannot tell you how many sad, frustrated tears were cried by both my now second grade son and me during his kindergarten and first grade years.
I knew in my gut that something wasn’t right but kept hearing the all too familiar “it’s developmental” and “he’s doing great and reading at grade level” nonsense — while I kept pointing out what appeared to be weak phonemic awareness and little understanding of how words are formed.
I refused to let their words appease me and kept researching, learning, and seeking professional input until my suspicion of dyslexia was confirmed.
It absolutely breaks my heart that the teachers at the ground floor of reading instruction in our area know so little about dyslexia.
I am a former high school English teacher who now carries sadness and guilt over the unidentified, defeated students I failed to encourage and help — all because I didn’t know. I wish I could contact each one of them now and put a name on the monster that plagued them and robbed them of their confidence and made school a miserable experience.
Education programs need to do more to train future teachers, and schools need to step up and acknowledge this very common learning difference.
I am confident that my little guy will rise above this and thrive, but I feel like I need to be a voice for the other three kids with dyslexia in his class of 20, and the many more spread throughout the building.
Thank you, Mrs. Barton, for making information about dyslexia accessible and clear. You have lit a fire in me that I hope will spread through our local school district.
Laura Kuster, Teacher and Parent
Andrew has profound dyslexia.
He first wrote his letter of support for California’s dyslexia bill, AB1369, by hand. Then he dictated it into the computer.
Not only is his letter touching, but it proves why technology tools are just as important as tutoring. Here is his dictated letter.
Dear Assembly Member Shannon Grove,
Hi! This is Andrew and I have Dyslexia and Dysgraphia and I am in 5th grade. I am 11 years old.
Dyslexia is a one in five have it. Dyslexia makes it really hard for kids to read and write very well. Dyslexia is not recognized in the public schools and kids are feeling stupid and not very smart or happy.
I know how they feel because I am going through it now. My mom and dad took me to a therapist who said I have dyslexia and dysgraphia. Dyslexia happens in families. My uncle and dad never knew that they had it.
There are times in life when I feel I’m not the smartest kid in my class because I can’t read like the other kids. It is like, I am two grades behind. Sometimes I give up and cry but my family, teachers, and Barton tutor help me keep going.
Mrs. Grove, you can help kids like me learn to read and write by voting yes on AB1369. AB1369 can give kids like me in California the chance to do great things in their classrooms and in life.
Please vote yes on AB1369. We need your help to make this happen!
The photo in this article is his handwritten version.
Once teachers or reading specialists learn about dyslexia, they start to realize how many of their struggling students have it. But when they try to share that with their fellow teachers or administrators, they often run into roadblocks – as this teacher shared.
I am a reading specialist at a public school in New York. We spoke briefly by phone a few months ago because I was concerned about my 4th and 5th grade students who are not making much progress.
I watched your videos, visited several websites, and read Sally Shaywitz’s book, Overcoming Dyslexia. I am convinced they have dyslexia.
But after I shared my concern with my principal and the other teachers, things at school have become a nightmare. I have been accused of making the teachers feel inferior when I share that many students need a different type of reading instruction. They claim to have years of teaching experience, and they know what they’re doing. Yet many of these students will be passed on to middle school still reading at a second grade level.
When I talk to the resource room teacher about dyslexia, he looks at me as if I have 3 heads.
I am no longer invited to student support meetings or IEP meetings.
I don’t know how to continue in the uphill battle. I know this is a lot to throw at you, but I really don’t know who else to turn to. I have sent my principal links to your videos, and I have summarized the findings of Overcoming Dyslexia. But everyone seems indifferent, and I am now perceived as a villain.
I know my students need more support. It hurts so much to see them suffer. I am committed to helping them reach their potential. But I feel so deflated and so stuck.
I need a plan for how to continue to advocate for them. I’d appreciate hearing your thoughts.
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
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.
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?
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?