Recently my eldest, B1, was diagnosed with dyslexia. His reading and writing has been something of a concern since he began primary school, and there hasn’t been a year that I haven’t gone in to the school to raise concerns with his teacher. Since he got his diagnoses I’ve joined some Facebook groups to support parents and the question, ‘how do kids leave school not being able to read’ is one I’ve seen come up.
But, if you’re a teacher, it’s not that surprising.
I did a double BEd (Secondary)/BA. In that four year university course I learnt many things. Of that course, I did one, six month, unit focused on educating children with special needs. It was an elective unit, and I drove from my country town to Melbourne (a four hour round trip) every Wednesday for a two hour lecture. Because I was doing secondary education I had zero instruction in how to teach reading, writing, or other literacy skills.
Primary educators may have more exposure to the mechanics of teaching reading and writing, but the focus of this will depend on what methods are in fashion at the time – phonics? whole word? a mix of the two? – and they won’t have any more access to special education strategies than I did. If you’re a parent reading this, know that most the teachers your child comes into contact with genuinely want to help your child learn, grow, and reach their potential. But they don’t necessarily have the tools and knowledge to do this. I know I didn’t.
Shouldn’t teacher’s keep educating themselves?
Absolutely. And they do. In fact, to keep teaching they have to. But there’s a vast difference between a Masters in Inclusive Education, and a one day professional development course. What’s more, teachers at different stages of their career are going to have different priorities – for a novice teacher this might just be surviving the day, and getting as much behaviour management PD as they can.
I have, over the course of B1’s school career, often felt frustrated and annoyed both at my child’s school, his teachers, and the education system in general. I’m not a saint. I, like most other parents, want the best opportunities for my children. However, after I’ve taken a breath, I remind myself that there is only so much a teacher can know. Just as I don’t expect my GP to know everything related to medicine, I don’t expect my children’s teachers to know everything.
If, as a teacher, you have ever wished that your students’ parents would be more involved then you need to remember this. And a partnership does not mean them blindly trusting that you are right.
If, as a parent, you have ever wished that your children’s teachers were more approachable then you need to remember this. And a partnership does not mean handballing every aspect of your child’s education to their school.
If we want our children to grow into capable, resilient, life-long learners we need to work together. We need to meet each other in the middle. Your child’s teacher is (probably) not deliberately trying to disadvantage your child. Your student’s parents are (probably) not trying to undermine you or your professionalism.
Children leave school not being able to read, because neither teachers nor parents will admit that teachers can’t, and don’t, know it all.
My families journey has just begun. I know we’ll meet great teachers, and I know we’ll meet crap teachers. And I know we’ll give B1 every opportunity we can.