There’s something very key that all need to understand about teachers…
…they are the front line.
They are the front line between two disparate and unknowingly opposing sides.
For Learning Disabled (LD) children, teachers know full well that they are caught between two fully warring sides.
For the parent of an LD child, they want their child to be seen for who they really are, not the disability they bring into the school building every day. They want their child to be taught how they learn. They want to see their child happy to go to school and truly learning. They want to see their child thrive with success and joy.
For the administration, the LD child is a burden, a tool to bring down their standardized scores, affect their overall performance ranking, both within their district and their state. They also see the LD child as a distraction, something that takes away from other far more important items while they instead cope with 504 or IEP meetings, unending emails demanding this that and the other, and all too emotional parents demanding things they should just give up on since their child is LD.
For the teacher, they find themselves caught between the two.
You see the teacher wouldn’t be a teacher if they didn’t want to be instrumental in a vast population of children’s lives. They entered this field with love, empathy and determination to be the best teacher they could possibly be. They entered this field knowing they would never be millionaires, but felt compelled to give of themselves to enlighten generations of children.
Our teachers spent four years, possibly more, earning their education degree(s). They worked hard and continue to do so every single day.
They went into their degrees as wide eyed children (because at 18 you’re still a child), without enough information or experience to question the methodologies that were being taught to them. They did not question the established methods handed down class after class by the tenured professors who we uphold to be the end all be all experts in their respective fields. They studied hard and were only taught Whole Language methodologies. They had little to no classes, or perhaps only a single lecture, on learning disabilities in general, maybe perhaps one on dyslexia. Those classes tend to be electives in degree plans. They were not taught structured, explicit, multi-sensory, science based reading methodologies.
And, none of that is their fault. NONE!
The Reading Wars is a very real thing. Truly, you can look it up, but sadly the first things Google will bring up are all the people on the side of Whole Language and Balanced Literacy. The science that supports phonics is difficult to find in lieu of the research that supports Whole Language.
(In case you hadn’t figured it out, I am not a fan of anything other than phonics and it’s science based support.)
Now, let’s throw in an additional wrench in the cogs.
As all parents of an LD child can attest to, there are some teachers, bad apples if you will, who only see children as something to be seen and not heard, and where one should never question the rightness and brilliance of said teacher for they know better than everyone else, including the parent.
They put a bad taste in the mouths of parents, they scar us because they scar our child, and the end result is that it makes it difficult to see that it doesn’t exist in all other teachers.
Because the truth is, one bad teacher can wreck more than a single school year’s worth of damage on a child’s mental well being.
Running a parent advocacy group means I talk to other parents. I hear about teachers stabbing students on the back of their hands with sharp pencils; whispering horrific statements like “you should just go ahead and kill yourself;” intentionally yelling at a student in front of their class peer group about how stupid they are because they can’t read; refusing to provide the student’s accommodations (and sometimes making this refusal public, again in front of the student’s class peer group) because it’s either a) a waste of their time, or b) because they believe it’s unnecessarily and unfairly leveling the playing field in favor of one who “doesn’t need it” over the rest ,or c) simply because they don’t want to; denying that mental health has and / or is being damaged; denying the very real existence of PTSD in our children purely based on personal opinion and not fact; etc. The list goes on and on but these are the ones that come immediately to mind.
If you want two very specific examples of horrible teachers, pick up Lois Letchford’s book Reversed. There are two specific teachers mentioned in the confines of that book that just make you wish you had been there at that time because you would have beaten them to a pulp yourself (which Lois didn’t but she did handle them rather beautifully).
These are true events, and when they happen, parents are permanently on the defensive.
But, we all know, in every profession, in every company, in every city, in every nation, bad apples exist. It’s just how life goes.
We are just extra sensitive because these are our children we’re talking about.
The point is, and bearing in mind that I’ve written about the fear that I’ve had walking into each and every school year thus far in “Dear Teacher,” which was a guest blog for BrainSpring Academy, our teachers can be our greatest resource, our greatest ally, in helping our children. Let me explain.
(The link to the BrainSpring Academy article is here: https://brainspring.com/ortongillinghamweekly/my-dyslexic-child/?fbclid=IwAR3dwkZVAq-8xWnBL5clGtzfAK_Jk89-yxzVL-LjzUMRKIhEPBnyQWXpVAc)
They are the barometers for our child’s academic performance, how their accommodations are and are not working, how Assistive Technology (AT) may or may not need to come into play as the content gets more challenging, how our child behaves at school and interacts with other children. While our child will be their true and genuine selves with us at home, we need the full measure of their behavior at school to best know how to give them the help they need, when to back off, when to push, when and who to fight and what is and isn’t working.
An empathetic teacher will be this barometer.
An administration that prohibits a teacher from being this barometer and providing truthful information to the parent is another issue, and something I won’t talk about now, but will say be very wary and tread with caution. You’ll have a huge fight in front of you.
To any teachers that read this, we need you. We need you to care about our children, have empathy with their struggles, follow their accommodations, be the barometers they and we need, and do everything you can, as part of your professional development, to learn about dyslexia and other LDs. There are amazing resources available to you, including scholarships through certain foundations like http://www.Boon.org for any learning you wish to pursue on your own time with your own money.
“It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.” -Nelson Mandela
After all, isn’t this why you became a teacher?