Blog Post by PTAC Member, Hollie Woodard
I love words. In my home where most people decorate with family photos and tschotskes from Home Goods, I decorate with words. Words like:
Today is a brand new day
Aspire for more
I choose words that inspire me to be grateful, motivated, and encouraged to live my best life. With an innate love and appreciation of language, it’s no surprise that I’m an English teacher and have dedicated my life to teach others to appreciate words as much as I do. Either spoken, written, or read, my life is enriched and made better by words.
Unfortunately, my son doesn’t have the same beautiful relationship with words. He is a diagnosed dyslexic, and his relationship with words has been traumatic and the source of the greatest pain of his young teenage life. As the most common learning disability, dyslexia robs one in five students (yes...read that again...one in five) from having a healthy relationship with language. They know, probably more than the four in five non dyslexics, that, yes, words have power.
The Federal Government amplified this sentiment when they recently passed the bipartisan prison reform bill, The First Step Act. This Act includes funding for dyslexia remediation, as one report showed that 48% of inmates in a Texas federal prison were dyslexic. Furthermore, addiction treatment facilities have adopted the term Dual Diagnosis referring to dyslexic addicts and included dyslexia remediation as part of their treatment practices when a report showed that 40% of those in active treatment facilities were dyslexic.
In addition to criminal behavior and addiction, dyslexics are vulnerable to suicide. At nine years old, I was told by my son’s doctor that he was high risk for suicide, and she further articulated that dyslexics whose needs are not met in school are three times more likely than their nondisabled peers to engage in high risk behavior like suicide, addiction, and violent crimes.
Since dyslexic students do not have access to the language that drives learning, school no longer serves as a safe place for self discovery, but, instead, it becomes a place of inadequacy, humiliation, and frustration. Constant exposure to these emotional traumas are equitable to abuse and impact children in the same way. However, research shows that if their needs are met, these negative experiences are eradicated and their risk factors return to normal.
Although the dangers of dyslexia are horrific, dyslexia is an educational anomaly that is either misunderstood or completely ignored by teachers and educational decision makers. When my son was diagnosed, I was a tenured teacher in a high achieving district with a Master’s Degree in Education. Sadly, not once during my undergraduate, graduate, or induction program did I take a class on dyslexia or even participate in a discussion about this common learning disability which is much like a doctor going through med school without learning anything about the common cold.
Motivated by my son’s disability, I began conducting independent research and learned that dyslexia is actually less of a learning disability and more of a learning allergy. Like the mother of a child with an egg allergy in search of an eggless cake recipe, teachers and educational decision makers can find programs that teach dyslexics to read. It’s not that dyslexics can’t read, they just can’t read the way most schools choose to teach reading. It’s been known since the 1930’s that dyslexics can learn to read from a multi-sensory direct explicit instruction approach based on the research of Dr. Orton and Dr. Gillingham. In fact, research has proven that all students can learn to read from this type of instruction which makes one wonder why this approach isn’t being used in every school.
The most tragic irony is that most teachers go into education to make the world a better place. Every single teacher and educational decision maker I know would demand change if they understood how directly connected dyslexia is to the ills of our society.
So, with all the power of my words I say to my colleagues:
Today is a brand new day... to learn as much as you can about the most common learning disability, dyslexia.
Aspire for more... for our most vulnerable students.
Take chances… by advocating for change within your school and community.
In doing so, you will... be amazing.
Blog Post by PTAC Member, Melissa-Ann Pero
In elementary, middle, and high school, I always felt like I was a little on the outside: not quite part of any particular group, but allowed to hang around on the outskirts of all of them. I wasn’t particularly outstanding in any way. I did well in school and didn’t get in trouble. I participated in activities from marching band to musicals to manager on the baseball team, so I had friends and things to do, but I never had any idea what put me on the outskirts. To be honest, I was always afraid that what put me there made me...weird.
In college, I became much more opinionated and was involved in a lot of activities including theater and marching band. I made some of my closest friends in college, and although I am positive my social filter needed honing, I still found myself among many different groups of people, but even among some of my closest friends, I felt weird.
Then I got a job as a teacher. Now all of a sudden here I am in the front of the room. No longer could I be sitting on the outside because for 40 minutes, six times a day, I was the main attraction. But I still had those same old feelings. What was it about me that made me feel weird? My willingness to try crazy things in my classroom? My all-in attempts at participating in spirit days? My over-the-top excitement when it came to talking about my passion for learning? I just didn’t know.
After twenty years in a classroom, if I’m being completely honest, I still don’t know. But my ten-year-old daughter left this note on my classroom whiteboard at the beginning of the school year, and it when I saw it, it inspired me.
So, after a long time trying to figure out how not to feel like I’m on the outside, I’ve decided to embrace my weird. It’s who I am. Over the last few years, I feel like it really is a part of me that puts me at my best in my classroom. Whether it’s dressing as Salvador Dali for National Art Week or as Kermit the Frog drinking tea on Meme Day, I figure I’m going all in.
And why not? Now, I find myself getting approached by kids from all walks of the high school social spectrum. Students who do not have me for class pull me aside to say hello, to high five, to talk. They know that I’ve embraced all my oddities - for better or for worse - and they know I won’t judge any of them for theirs. It has made a difference in the way I teach, and it has made a difference in the way they learn.
As educators, we spend our days reminding students how important it is for them to embrace who they want to be, so I figure a great way for it to begin is to start with ourselves. Find your quirks, find your idiosyncrasies, find yourself, and make sure your students know that you embrace your weird and encourage them to do the same!
Melissa-Ann Pero is a high school English teacher and yearbook advisor currently working on her Doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction. She has been a presenter at various district, area, and state conferences in Pennsylvania, is a Keystone Technology Innovator, and thrives on being a education junkie. She’s always looking grow her PLC so please follow her on Twitter @bshsmspero.
Pennsylvania Teachers Advisory Committee