My mother is a public school teacher, and she once told me how she carefully chooses her words. She often has grown adults, her former students, come back to visit her classroom. They will tell her that she changed their lives, many times with just one word or phrase that didn't seem like a huge deal at the time.
But it is a huge deal. Our words can make or break a child.
My children went back to school this week, and I want to share two examples with you. One is a word choice that can negatively impact a child, and the other is one that will build a child up.
Mistakes happen, but we must strive to be aware of differences.
This first paper was included as part of my 3rd grader's school packet. My first thought is that this could easily be a "signs of dyslexia flyer"
if we simply changed the heading to "does your 3rd grade child struggle with these items?"
That's not what it is meant to be though. It is a list of items that will not be tolerated in class. According to this paper, there is simply "no excuse" for making these types of mistakes.
Maybe the author is right. Dyslexia is not an "excuse" for these types of mistakes. It is the reason.
The dyslexic brain
is wired a bit differently that the non-dyslexic brain. It is much harder to process language.
I spoke with the teacher. She is very nice, and I do like her. She explained that my child will not be held to these requirements due to his IEP. She said this is more of a checklist, and it was provided to her during a district in-service.
This is the same district where we have been pushing for dyslexia awareness in-service training for the past two years, with no luck. Huh.
She also told me these are normal expectations for the non-dyslexic child. But that my child shouldn't worry over them.
Yet he does worry over them. He has an above average IQ, and he excels in the regular ed classroom - with accommodations. He can do all of the work - with accommodations. His learning difference is in language skills such as reading, writing and spelling. With basic accommodations, he performs above grade level in all subjects (aside from reading and spelling), which is correct for his IQ level.
When my son sees this paper with "no excuses" across the top, it puts a giant spotlight on his differences. He doesn't want to be different. If the paper were titled differently, as a "checklist" or as "reminders", it would not have bothered him in the least. "No excuses" makes an 8 year old with dyslexia, who doesn't wish to be different, feel even worse ...self esteem goes down. I don't for one moment believe that anyone in the field of education wishes to do that to a child.
Changing one phrase, a tiny little change, would make a gigantic difference. Remember, 1 in 5 children have dyslexia, and many go unidentified during their school years.
Now, I want to share something positive with you!
My first grader, who also has dyslexia, brought home this worksheet:
It is a worksheet on b and d. Her teacher recognized that this is a challenge for my child. She wrote, "This is probably very difficult for her. She did very well and tried each." It is followed by a smiley face.
Effort! She recognized that my child is putting in incredible effort, and that this task is a tough one!
Her teacher told me she did research online when she found out she would be teaching a child with diagnosed dyslexia. She is applying what she learned - small changes - to class, and it makes an amazing difference!
My daughter saw me looking at this, and said, "That was VERY hard! The hardest EVER!" I said, "You did very well, and you tried them all." She beamed and said, "I know."
And just like that, her self esteem gained a boost! She won't give up the next time something is hard. She will keep on trying.
I adore both teachers. I don't think anything is done in malice.
I do urge you to think over the wording in your classroom. Think about the assignments. And remember that the kids who struggle with reading or spelling may actually be very smart little guys and girls. When you struggle with something that is such a big part of every day, school can be a scary place. It takes an act of courage to even enter the door. Let's build them up!
You are powerful. Your words are powerful. Our kids look up to you, and you are one of their superheroes. All of this is good! Let's work together to keep them happy, learning and growing.
Check out Learning Ally's professional development for teachers at www.LearningAlly.org/Educators.
Jules Johnson is the mom of two children who have dyslexia and one of the co-founders/leaders of Decoding Dyslexia-TN. After 12 years as a broadcast meteorologist, Jules joined the Learning Ally
family in 2014 to help make the world a better place for those who have print disabilities like dyslexia or visual impairment.