Guest Blog: “Reflections from Thick to Dyslexic Lecturer 2” (22/52)

Part 2 of the Guest Blog (Part 1) from a recently retired lecturer, considers the implications and adaptions required to survive in academia. What is immediately evident, at least to me, is the resilience which shines through and together with the personal support from family members demonstrates how a Lecturer with dyslexia can prosper.

Reflections on Thick to Dyslexic Lecturer Part 1:

When entering the world of employment being dyslexic and not being able to spell was always a problem and a point of contention, but when I became a lecturer in an Agricultural college the position changed and you were checking the English of the students.  This set-up a new challenge, how not to spell every thing wrong on the board!

The solutions were relatively simple:-

  1. I was lucky that overhead projectors were the in thing by then and in many ways better for teaching than the fancy electronic boards of today; but they gave the same advantage computers do today in that you presented preprepared notes to the students, but all these had to be hand written.  So in the first year of teaching every night was spent writing notes having the spelling checked by my wife and then copying them out by hand onto acetate sheets.  At times I even had my wife copying out notes onto OHP sheets for me. If I had not had my wife to check my spelling I do not know what I would have done!  The last thing you want as a new teacher is spelling mistakes every were on your work.
  2. Photocopying was not a common thing and hand outs were rare and very special so these were limited to diagrams and tables of information; so these had very little spelling/writing and the information was often taken from another source which meant the spelling had already been checked. (Bonus!)
  3. Student participation was seen as a good thing so getting students out to the front of the class to take turns in writing on the board was seen as a positive thing! (Double Bonus!)

As soon as I was confident in front of classes and this took a couple of years teaching, I found that being completely honest with the students was usually a good thing, they knew when it was not my hand writing on an OHP sheet.  The solution was to tell them that I was dyslexic this was always accepted without a problem and it even made some of the students more comfortable in my classes and for some it even gave them encouragement.

The staff on the other had were completely the opposite, firstly I could not be dyslexic as someone with dyslexia could not be bright enough to be a teacher and if I was it was morally wrong for someone like that to be a teacher.  I learnt to tell the students but to keep it from my colleagues! I even got to the point of telling parents and potential students at interview (when I was Head of Department) that we did our best for dyslexic students and gave what help we could and that in fact I understood, as I was dyslexic.  The relief in the potential student and particularly the parents was palpable.  The down side was I was told I was going over budget in student support and this was not fair or appropriate and I should reduce the demand for this from my department!

You would expect things to improve but some 15 years after starting teaching (in the 1990’s), in a senior staff meeting including the Principle and a few other not worthy individuals, my line manager accused me of being dyslexic as a put down “any one would think you were dyslexic”.  I informed him that indeed I was and that if he did his job properly and read his staff files he would in fact know this!  There was deadly silence, the principle restarted the meeting without comment and the matter was never alluded to again.  My line manager never spoke to me about it and acted as if nothing had happened.  He was not disciplined over the matter or given any pointers over the matter, I was an anomaly and this problem of a dyslexic teacher would never appear again!

Things improved with the use of computers and spell checks; such a fantastic improvement!  Soon we will be able to talk into a microphone and the computer will fill the screen with your words.  I have tried several times with current software but without success,  I know some people have found software that works for them, so it can’t be far away for all of us to have software that can read and write for us if we have the means to buy the new software;  the same applies to dictionaries that are not limited to words in common use.  Some of the time delay maybe down to management who do not see the importance of these steps forward in technology.; but the future is bright!

The down side that is that the less you use your English skill the worse they get, practice does help!!!

Being dyslexic has had a profound effect on me from the time I had to go to school and be judged (aged 4 & 3/4).  I am disabled and have been so since I was about 30 getting worse until I retired on the grounds of ill health; I was seen as disabled for only the last 5 years of my working life although my physical disability had stopped me from doing certain tasks at work for 20 years.  Being dyslexic was never seen as a disability.  Being dyslexic has had a much greater effect on me than the mobility problems which I encounter.

There are positive attributes to being dyslexic you learn to develop coping strategies and how to problem solve very early in life.  You learn how to stand up for yourself.  There are aspects where having a dyslexic brain helps; you can see the big picture and find away through the maize, but you need to be a master in diplomacy. Being in a meeting and finding the solution to a problem in 3 minutes which has taken your boss 3 weeks to find, does not go down very well.

Having to stand up for yourself and work hard to over come a difficulty can build up your resilience; this strength can be very useful in many aspects of life.

Dyslexics, with the use of new technology and better understanding by the public, should find it easier to rise to the level where their planning, problem solving and strategic competency skills can be brought to the fore.

What can we do to help? Tell our story, perhaps offer a long distance mentoring.  Real change will only happen when people understand disability and what it means.  You can have a disability and never be disabled by it because you never encounter situations where the disability comes into play.  You can have a disability that affects you all the time.  The more of the time a disability affects you the more impact it has on your life, it is not just a bout severity although the level is also very important.

A person who is permanently in a wheelchair faces many physical and mobility difficulties every day, many of these can be reduced or removed by planning and changes to the environment.  If they work at a desk perhaps at a call centre their disability can be negated while at work if sufficient care is given to the environment.  This level of attention is just beginning to appear for these people.

As language is critical at all times in our modern society and there are no longer thousands of factory jobs where those who find language difficult can work, it is critical that dyslexia is given the same standing as other disabilities and it is recognised very early on in life.  It is understood that language skills are established in children at a very early age, the first 2 or 3 years of life, we could think of teaching children more than one language and include a language which is basically phonetic. Strangely even English elocution lessons would be a massive help as then spell-checkers stand a chance.

There are many solutions out there and we are all individuals and we have to work out our own strategies but with modern technology the future is brighter than it has ever been!!!

A huge thank you too another dyslexic blogger!

Nigel Lockett – The Dyslexic Professor
University dyslexia support