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Being dyslexic

Kirstin Philp Smith hasn't let her dyslexia become a barrier to her teaching.

Primary Teacher, Markinch Primary School, Fife

I feel that your can either see dyslexia as a challenge to overcome or as an excuse not to put the effort in. I am not for a second saying that children with dyslexia don't have issues to contend with, however, I have been there myself and a I know that a negative attitude gets you nowhere.

My dyslexia

I was identified as having mild dyslexia during primary six after moving to a small country school. At the time, I resented being labelled and refused a lot of the help available, especially when I reached secondary school, as I didn't want to be singled out as being different. This attitude made me very determined to succeed on my own.

Following school (having to sit higher English twice), I went to university gaining an honours degree and I have survived the PGDE(P)!

Building confidence

As I'm sure you've guessed, my confidence in my language abilities isn't high. However, my language lecturers at Dundee University were inspiring.

Straight away one of them pointed out that language isn't all spelling and grammar; if that's not what you're teaching, then you shouldn't correct every mistake. This is a good thing for me, as I don't automatically see every mistake.

They also pointed out how easy it is to learn one step ahead of the children, which I have been doing with grammar ever since.

My strategies for coping

Since going through teacher training I have developed strategies and have my own ideas on how language should be taught. In my teaching practice I try to be very aware that language should not just be about putting pen to paper. With the help of my mentor, I have devised language games and practical activities to assess the children that struggle with the stresses of writing.

I find the interactive white board an invaluable tool in teaching. I have discovered a wealth of resources available to use as teaching aids, my favourite being Roy The Zebra. I have also started timetabling clicker into my language lesson for those who I think it will benefit. So far all results have been positive.

Working with dyslexia, not against it

I have some strategies that I use in my classroom for getting past being dyslexic. Firstly, there is always a sticker for the famous sticker chart if you can spot a teacher mistake.

I also have a spell checker next to me and I use a dictionary, I find this to be educational for the class too as I demonstrate how to use these helpful classroom items and also that it is not the end of the world to get something wrong.

Finally, I am honest with the children, they know I'm not perfect and I hope they are not worried about questioning what I have done.

Changing attitudes

I was amazed that when I told my class that I had dyslexia that their response was 'but you're a teacher'. I asked why and some sheepishly said because dyslexics are stupid. I pointed out again that I was dyslexic and they were then faced with a quandary.

There are several dyslexics in my class and I like to think that I have taken the 'but I'm dyslexic' out of their choice of excuses for not being able to do the work.

Realising the benefits

My dyslexia has been beneficial to my teaching practice, as I understand the pressures that children face. Dyslexia should not be viewed as a barrier to learning but rather as a reason to explore new ideas and ways to enhance and develop learning.