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When you think back on your education what are the memories that stick out in your head as being meaningful?  I’m not talking about the social aspect in any way, what I’m referring to is something academic that made a lasting impression on you.

I’m hopeful the memory is a positive one, but I’m certain that there are negative ones too.

I honestly don’t have many that leap out at me where I felt moved in a significant way, either positive or negative, but I do have a couple, and I’d like to share the first one with you.

I remember being so excited to start kindergarten.  It was a big deal for me.  My brother was leaving home and starting college the same time I was going to start kindergarten.  I remember he asked me once during dinner if I would make straight A’s, and in my 5 year old naivete I said “I already can!”  I ran and got a piece of paper and a pen, came back to the table and drew the straightest A’s I could.  It was many years before I understood the smile my brother gave me in that moment.

Anyway, I loved school.  I remember being so excited to be taught how to read and how easy it was for me.  I remember my teacher as being a very kind and loving woman.  I do remember getting in trouble once and having to miss recess as a result, but why I don’t remember.  And of course there was the one little boy, who we considered to be the mean kid who looked up all the little girls’ skirts.

As I’ve grown older and become a parent, I’ve come to realize how the beginning of school can really shape our perceptions of not just education, but our intellect and ability.  Words said to us, assumptions made about us in the first years of school define us forever.

What do I mean by this?  So I’ve told you I loved kindergarten, but I did not like first grade.  That was when they introduced math and that’s when I started to struggle.  That struggle only got worse with each passing year.  I remember my mom going over multiplication flash cards with me and how I struggled endlessly with them and how frustrated she would get with me.  I believed I just couldn’t do math and dreaded every class.  In college I failed math twice and on the second failure I got kicked out.

Caveat – I dare anyone to take my college algebra class with the exact same teacher I had and pass it because there were 20 of us and 18 failed!  That woman never should have been allowed to teach!

Anyway, I didn’t find out until the 1st day of the new semester that I had been kicked out, and I couldn’t go home and face my parents without a plan; so I drove to my local community college and signed up for the exact same class I had just failed, Finite Mathematics.

This is my second memory that stands out to me.  I wish I remembered the teacher’s name because he changed my perception of myself and my ability to learn.  Without knowing anything about me, without knowing my story at all, within the first couple of weeks of class he asked me to stay after one day and what he told me set me free.

He had quickly figured out that I was actually quite bright and he told me so, which was a first.  He explained to me that when the material was explained I could always answer the question, but after we had moved onto another topic and discussed that for a while, if he came back to the original topic and asked me to solve an equation, I could never do it.  He said I needed the practice to immediately follow the instruction when the material was still fresh in my brain.  If I did enough equations I was able to commit the material to my mind permanently.  If discussion was followed by hours of not doing the practical work because of attending other classes, going to work, etc., I was unable to do the practical work.  I would sit for hours trying to figure it out and was never able to do so.  He told me a math class was the worst possible format for me, that what I needed was a skilled tutor who had the time and patience to let me do it my way, which was to have the explanation, followed by immediate practice to the level where I felt I had it, then I could move onto the next topic.  By giving me the key to how my mind worked I was able to master the material in his class and made an A.

As a result, I never sat through another math class again.  I’d show up on the first day, get the curriculum and then only show up again for exams.  Eventually I got so good at math I didn’t need tutors as I was able to teach myself; that is until grad school which I wouldn’t have survived without an awesome savior named Courtney.

Small footnote – Graduate Economics is one of the most soul crushing, intellectually debilitating class every conceived!  It’s just cruel!  Despite that, I got a B.

When my son was in kindergarten, I shared with his teacher my hopes and dreams for his education and that I felt quite strongly that his lifelong love or hatred of school would find it’s foundations in kindergarten.  She was a little taken aback by that statement but also felt it was a profound truth.  Here’s why I think this way.

I believe that despite my struggles with mathematics throughout my entire education, my love of kindergarten established a love of learning deep within my being.  I say this because despite my hatred of math, I loved all of my other classes, except chemistry which is just math in science form.  I did well in school overall.  I even pursued and obtained a graduate degree and am far from done with learning new things.

Our experiences in kindergarten, both good and bad, will shape our educational path.

Think about it, you’re 5 years old and you’ve entered the big kid world because you’re starting school.  You are officially no longer a little kid.  You’re so excited about all of the things you think school is all about.  Will you make straight A’s?  Depends on how well you can draw them on paper, right?  Kindergarten is a beginning, the first steps onto a road traveled by millions before, but unique to you.  If you have big bothers or sisters, their experiences may shape your perceptions as you set foot onto what you feel is truly hallowed ground, but in the most awesome way possible.  I know some children are afraid to start school, but I’ve personally yet to meet a 5 or 6 year old child that wasn’t loving kindergarten.

Now imagine screening these brand new kindergartner’s for dyslexia, and knowing out of the gate, that they are in fact dyslexic.  Imagine if you will, putting a comprehensive education plan, written to find and capitalize on their strengths, written to truly help with their weaknesses with an evidence-based methodology, to fidelity, in kindergarten.

Dyslexia is identifiable up to 92% accuracy at the age of 5.5 which is typically the age a child is upon entering kindergarten.  The earlier dyslexia is identified and remediation begun, the less of a gap the dyslexic child will have against their peers in later years.  The later the identification, the greater the gap and the harder it is to remediate; not impossible, just much harder.

Now, I’ve not shared my math struggles in the hopes of diminishing the dyslexia message, quite the contrary.  I was very lucky that my struggle wasn’t an invisible disability that took massive remediation to help me overcome.  My teacher just recognized the difference between an auditory and visual learner and how that impacted my ability to process complex material.

My goal here is to communicate how the impact of a teacher can shape the education of our children, for better of for worse.  So, if we not only screen for dyslexia at the beginning of kindergarten, but also implement a comprehensive plan for remediation and follow through with that plan, imagine the positive impact education could then have on our dyslexic children.

Imagine throwing away the label and educating our kids how they need to be taught, from the beginning.  Imagine the success, the hope, the dreams that are real and attainable, instead of beaten out of them, figuratively speaking.  Imagine the ending of meltdowns over homework because no one has yet to diagnose dyslexia in our 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, etc. grade children.  Imagine our children never saying again that they’re stupid.

Imagine kindergarten really and truly being what we think it is when we’re 5, a gateway to all that is possible in this world.  Imagine our schools truly setting our children free to be whomever they dream they can be.



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