Some teachers may be reluctant to admit they have this disorder, but Stephen Manning finds it can have some significant advantages
Wayne Pearce writes on the whiteboard but his spelling is a little bit awry. However, pupils at the Bristol school where he has worked for the past five years aren't laughing at him, they are correcting him - for Wayne is dyslexic.
"When I write learning objectives on the board, they know my spelling might not be quite right," he says. "It's harder for Year 7 pupils, they arrive with the impression all teachers are perfect. Soon they learn we can help each other and it's generally very positive."
Wayne is a design and technology teacher at Downend Comprehensive in Bristol. He was only diagnosed in his second year at university but had always been aware there was a problem. At junior school, he had extra classes to catch up with handwriting until those classes were axed. Wayne got a taste for teaching while running arts and craft clubs at his old school when he was doing a foundation arts course at Filton College in Bristol.
Filton had links with teacher-training courses at the University of Wales, Newport, where applicants didn't have to do a skills test.
"I did the DT course, not thinking I'd complete it," he says. But he did.
Wayne decided not to teach, but when a part-time position came up at Downend, he took it. He enjoyed the job so much that when he was offered full-time work, he stayed.
Like a lot of teachers, his devotion to his work eats into his personal time. "I write reports, I set coursework, I mark exams. The problem is it just takes me a bit longer," he says. "I used to come into work at weekends to get the extra time I needed to prepare lessons. But our residential caretaker left and it became impossible."
After seeing an item on television in which the Disability Discrimination Act was discussed, he started to think about how it might affect dyslexics like himself. "Because dyslexia is not a visible, physical disability, it's harder for people to understand," he says.
Since the 1995 law, employers have had to make "reasonable adjustments" for workers with learning difficulties, including dyslexia. That can be agreed in discussion with the teacher and might just be a spell-checker, or even coloured paper.
For Wayne, the adjustment was time management. The school expanded his PPA time to cover his free time, allowing him to concentrate on lesson planning without being called to cover a class.
Janet Cousins, deputy head of Downend and the school's professional development co-ordinator, says: "I have seen him in the classroom and he's an outstanding teacher. We've asked him to identify the aspects of the role in which he's at a disadvantage. Does he need more aids? More admin support? The school will then make a submission to Access To Work, the Jobcentre Plus scheme which assists disabled people in employment."
This is all new to both school and teacher. "I did worry that if you start quoting legislation, it makes you seem like a bully," says Wayne. "But the school has been very supportive and I feel if teachers and schools knew more about these things, there is so much good to be achieved."
Even with all sides willing to accommodate, there could still be a problem with lack of information about the condition, coping strategies and legislation. This led Treley Woolger to set up the Dyslexic Teachers'
Association as a website, initially as a forum for others in her position.
The 23-year-old drama teacher in her first post-induction year at Lord Grey School, a foundation secondary in Milton Keynes, is statemented as severely dyslexic.
"I wasn't diagnosed until my first year of university but it explained why I did certain things, such as using coloured pens, and thinking in pictures rather than words.
The website has useful information for dyslexic teachers, such as strategies which would fall into the "reasonable adjustments" employers are required to make.
Treley says:"I put up posters about the association in my school, explaining my experience and what dyslexia was about. Out of 150 staff, 10 contacted the special needs department to say they thought they might be dyslexic."
Her strategy polarised dyslexic colleagues. "Some felt the kids must not know they were affected but others were happy to be open about it. The best thing for me is that the dyslexic kids I teach can see a successful adult who is like them."
FACTS AND FIGURES
According to the British Dyslexia Association, 4 per cent of the UK population is severely dyslexic. An estimated 10 per cent is mildly affected. In 200405, less than 2 per cent of trainee teachers said they were dyslexic when taking the Training and Development Agency's skills tests in numeracy, literacy and technology, which must be taken before a teacher's induction year (except in Wales). Of 33,445 trainees, 662 declared their dyslexia on the literacy test. The pass rate was 94.3 per cent, compared with 96.9 per cent for all trainees.
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