THE CoolerRuler:
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Boost Your Learning Power

Another anti-dyslexic teacher starts her career

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I was so upset yesterday that I had to leave my sister’s birthday party early.

Now, I love my sister and I enjoy parties - so it had to be something big to make me leave early. But in fact, it was something small - a tiny teacher, about five feet tall and newly qualified, conveyed her distaste for children with dyslexia (and those who choose to train as special needs teachers) and refused to consider altering her teaching methods to accommodate those who might find it difficult to copy from the board.

The conversation began when I asked how she had been doing since I last saw her about six years ago. She has been doing well - good GCSE’s, A levels, a teaching degree and she’s about to start work. Well done her - she has a job in a private school teaching French and Spanish. This is not to her liking; she wants to work in the state sector and is pretty disgusted that the only job she could get is in the private sector.

The girl was delighted to find that I was a teacher and asked, enthusiastically, what I taught. The expression of disinterest and disdain that crossed her face seconds later when I mentioned special needs was incredible and the ensuing conversation showed why.

Having taught in a private school myself (my lack of a general teaching qualification precluded my teaching special needs in a state school for a reasonable salary!) I was able to reassure her that it would be no sinecure. She would certainly find those children that she so wants to teach, whose parents have no interest in their education - paying for it doesn’t necessarily mean that parents will actually support the educative process - as well as those who are bright but struggling through an unidentified learning disability. But she was adamant that private schools are full of children who are too dim to be able to cut it in a state school which is why their parents have had to resort to buying education for them. This from an ex-private school girl.

Don’t get me wrong, I was not on a mission to sell private education to this youngster. I also have experience of teaching in a state school; my headmistress for three years employed me as a special needs support assistant whilst I was undertaking my dyslexia training and soon realised that she had an asset in me. She couldn’t pay me any more than the £3.50 an hour I was getting, but she was able to use her staff training budget to help me continue my education and in the meantime, she gave me a classroom where I took groups of - mostly dyslexic - children who had poor literacy skills for 30 minute sessions. It was fantastic training for me (my learning curve was virtually vertical), it gave the kids access to specialised teaching that they wouldn’t otherwise have had and the class teachers loved the ability to teach with the disruptive element removed from the classroom!

However, the point I was trying to make to my new colleague is that children in private schools have the same right to good, enthusiastic teachers and will probably present as much of a challenge as those in most state schools. Her point was that, since she will be studying for her master’s degree, it was probably a good job that she was only working in a private school, because it will be so easy peasy!

Having failed to convince her of any merit to be gained from her forthcoming employment, I asked her how much training she had had in dealing with specific learning difficulties. I wasn’t surprised when she told me that “there had been a couple of seminars” but I was astounded when she added that “it didn’t matter anyway, because we were not training to be special needs teachers.” When I tried to get her to see how important the class teacher is in the life of a dyslexic pupil, she stated that, in her opinion “there is far too much dyslexia diagnosed these days”.

By now I was nearly in despair - but I ploughed on, tackling the issue of near vs. far-point copying. If nothing else, would she consider making sure that in her classroom, pupils didn’t have to copy from the board? “Oh, of course I’d give handouts to those who had been diagnosed, but the rest could copy from the board. We’ve been told that we have to keep the photocopying budget down.”

So I left the party. I am still pretty depressed today. I find it so hard to believe that in this day and age, when so much is known about the facts of life in school from the point of view of a dyslexic, teachers can finish their training with absolutely no understanding of how at least 10% of their pupils approach the learning experience. And what a miserable experience it’s going to be.

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