A recently retired lecturer reflects on their journey from school, where they were labelled as ‘thick‘, to being a dyslexic lecturer, where they were not really labelled as anything. Both presented their own challenges. In part 1, we see the painful reality of the move from school through university.
Reflections on Thick to Dyslexic Lecturer Part 1:
I am now in my early sixties and have never been asked to review my experience of living with dyslexia; so I am thankful (I think) for Nigel giving me this opportunity to write about my experience. At this point I have no idea what can of worms I am about to open! I have spent much of my life in academia and have had to struggle with my dyslexia on a daily basis.
This is my personal reflections on the past and may well be different from other people’s view of events as mine is coloured by considerable emotion. As you look back you see events from a different and perhaps a more informed position.
I was diagnosed as being dyslexic at the age of 11 in the first year of High School. At that time the 11 plus was still in fashion and I had been coached by my father to make sure I got into High School as he was determined I was not going to the secondary modern school. This was the only time my father coached me, or put me under this kind of direct pressure to achieve in school. At this time I was very unhappy and at times would not go to school. Previously, I had enjoyed Primary School and had not objected to going to Junior School although the weekly spelling test had become a nightmare where I had to go over the spellings every night at home until I got most of them right, but was always in the bottom one or two and had been labelled as thick. It was at Junior School where I was first told that I was officially different and classifiable; this was by the boy who sat next to me in class he told me I was word blind! He had told his mother about me and how I was in class and she had told him I was word blind or dyslexic! Fantastic how a 9 year old child who is your friend and in your class can see things that teachers can’t! I would have only been 9 or 10 at this point.
Things came to a head in the High School as I would be sent to school and return shortly afterward complaining of stomach-ache and I achieved the remarkable score of 0% in the Latin exam, it was this remarkable score that made the school take notice as apparently this was a first for them! It was my mother who took up the challenge and made the school call in an educational psychologist. I can still remember parts of that day and the tests that I undertook. In one of the test I had completed the task and was looking around the room, the person who was running the test told me to get on with it and I said I had finished he was taken aback that I had finished so I guess we are all good at some things.
The school had to accept that I was different and they were going to make sure I knew it and so did every one else. I had no longer to take Latin but had to sit at the back to the class and be quiet and behave. This was announced to the whole class and was quickly a hot topic of conversion amongst the boys; how to get out of the hated Latin classes. This was the only “help” the school would or did give. The other idea given by the physiologist was that I was taught to “touch type”, luckily for me me parents were reasonably well off and paid for private lessons after school. The idea was that as you learnt to copy type you would use a different part of your brain. For me this was the start of a new era, my writing went from, ‘we can’t read it’ to ‘your spelling is terrible’. Luckily my father changed jobs and we moved from Stoke-on-Trent to Manchester.
My new school in Manchester was a Grammar School (not “the” Grammar School), This was much better and forward thinking where each subject was setted from 1 to 4 and I even got special help with my English. Still my most vivid memory is spellings in class where each person had to spell a random word given to them by the English teacher, I never got the word right and it became an amusement to the class the tittering started as soon as my name was called out, it felt like being asked to stand up to be laughed at.
At this point in time technology came to my rescue, this was the start of computers and we were allowed a calculator in class (if your parents would buy you one) and then spell-checkers came along. There was even a version that took account of dyslexia, of course you had to know you didn’t know how to spell the word (in my case just about every word) and you had to know how the word started, in some cases a hopeless task, this is exactly the same problem with using a dictionary. Despite this I managed to jump the academic hoops, with scrapped knees at times, getting a place at university.
University was much more accepting and little comment was made. My dyslexia only came up on two occasions. The first time was when the university did some kind of survey on dyslexia and the university did not have a problem with dyslexia as out of its over 7000 + students there were only 2 students registered with dyslexia [1 in 10 people are dyslexic]. I know this as I and the other student were taken out for lunch in celebration! Nothing else was done. In my third year one of my tutors took me aside to suggest to me that he thought that I might be dyslexic.
Later in life I completed two Teacher Training courses, one at a Further Educational establishment and one at another University no comment was made in either case. This I am not surprised at as technology had moved on from spell checkers to computers that check your spelling and grammar and all work, by then, had to be completed on a computer i.e. type written.
I feel I was very lucky that I had my parents support and they had the money to do something when the schools wouldn’t. Despite that I know the traumatisation and the lack of self confidence created in school has stayed with me throughout my life.
By a strange quick of circumstance I found myself teaching. I never expected it to be a career move, but and after the initial shock many teachers go through, I found I enjoyed being on the other side of the desk.
Not much sign of a dyslexic advantage yet.