Dyslexia: Why it shouldn't stop you becoming a teacher

It's Dyslexia Week, and James Oddy shares his tips and tricks on managing the disorder as a teacher

James Oddy

James Oddy offers advice for teaching students with dyslexia - and handling dyslexia as a teacher

One of the main reasons I hesitated to become an English teacher was because I have dyslexia. 

I love the subject, but I was convinced that I wasn’t fit to do the job. 

After finally deciding to take the plunge last year, my anxiety grew and grew before I started my PGCE. 

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Dyslexia didn't stop me becoming a teacher

But I soon found that my dyslexia was not only manageable, it also offered me some unforeseen advantages. So if you find yourself in the same position, here are some tips and tricks to try:

1. Be honest with your school mentor and university

Tell them at the earliest opportunity. I still have a copy of an educational psychologist’s report about my dyslexia and it has proved very useful.

I was worried that showing it to people would make them question why I was teaching English. Instead, I was met with a plethora of support and strategies to help me overcome any potential hurdles.

2. Be honest with your students

When you’re standing in front of a class for the first time, there’s an understandable pressure to have everything correct straight away, and to come across as an all-knowing expert.

I was afraid that I was going to be exposed as an absolute fraud. 

How can someone who can’t spell be a teacher? How can someone whose handwriting is so poor be taken seriously?  

But then I found that taking ownership became a huge benefit. I asked students to correct me if I made a mistake. I’d look up spellings in a dictionary if I wasn’t sure. I modelled the strategies I've learned in life to help combat the issues I’ve had.

3. Be prepared

That being said, it pays to prep as much as you can before teaching. Spelling and handwriting are my weak points, particularly when I’m tired or distracted. 

I try now to look over the series of lessons coming up and see what the key pieces of vocabulary are, to become familiar with them.

Workload may make this difficult to achieve every time, so don’t feel guilty if you can’t. But before you go into a situation, think about what could be an issue and how you can prevent it from snowballing.

You’re the greatest tool in your classroom, so make sure you’re as sharp as you can be.

4. Appreciate the insights 

I remember one of my teachers berating me in front of a class for making spelling mistakes. Likewise, I remember the horror of having to read out spelling test scores to my peers or having students complain about my handwriting during peer marking. 

Think back to how you were badly supported and the long-term effects it had on you. Think about how you can prevent that from happening.

One of my first real “teacher moments” was when a student of mine with dyslexia found me after school to tell me he’d started to enjoy English again. 

As a teacher with dyslexia, you’re in a brilliant position to use your own experiences for the benefit of others in a similar position.

5. Don’t minimise it

I’m still guilty of this to this day. I tell myself I’m not dyslexic, I’m just stupid or lazy. If I worked harder, then I wouldn’t struggle like this.

It’s an ongoing soundtrack, which is turned up when I make an obvious error. I believe the key to getting it under control is taking a step back and accepting that it’s a part of yourself. 

Yes, being dyslexic means you have to work harder in some areas. But think of the resilience, hard work and creativity you’ve had to utilise to get to this stage. 

It’s a deep well and one which you can draw from when it feels like it’s getting tough. Accept that how you think and work may be slightly different to others, but embrace what it can give you.

James Oddy is a trainee English teacher

This piece was originally published on 27 August 2019. 

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James Oddy

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