The most important 5 minutes of my day

July 9, 2018 at 8:50 pm Leave a comment

I attended a training today that’s geared toward student’s with Dyslexia. The program is called Orton Gillingham (OG). There were about 28 teachers in the room that will meet everyday for the next five days for 8 hours each day. These were veteran teachers as well as a few first time teachers who will be meeting their very first class this Fall. The training started out like every other, with lengthy introductions that you forgot within five minutes. The speaker talks about the program and it’s successes and gets us imagining how we can each make this kind of impact on our students.

Then, she talks about Dyslexia. She starts to taut how most of these students are gifted but feel dumb because they have a difficult time reading. I’ve been teaching for fifteen years and I knew what she was talking about. These are the students who hate being corrected. The idea of reading a book is infuriating. Words on the page don’t make sense and they don’t know why! I thought I understood and could empathize with my students. I thought I was being supportive when they struggled. I was wrong.

The group was given a passage to read. Each of us got a copy of the seven sentence paragraph on DNA. I looked at my table mate and said, “Oh, this’ll be one of those empathy exercises. This is so silly.” We were instructed to wait until everyone had their paper and the teacher would call on us to read a loud.

I turned the paper over and I saw letters. I saw black letters on white paper. There were q’s and lots of them! There were a’s and t’s and m’s and many other letters that I recognized. But there were very few words that I could decipher! The teacher called on a student and she read the first two sentences with proficiency. Her voice rang out reading each word perfectly like the bells for Sunday church. My brain went into overdrive. Sweat beads started forming under my arm. I searched and searched and tried to find the pattern. Was each /q/ really a /t/? Were the letters flipped? Were the vowels taken out of this indecipherable text? I started to worry. I looked at the woman who had just read the text perfectly and wondered, how did she do that? Does she have this innate ability to read anything? Was she a Kindergarten teacher who can read even the most obscure writing?

Nope. She was a middle school teacher who had just read the first two sentences perfectly. Then, another teacher read her passage. She struggled and I thought, “Thank goodness I’m not the only one who’s having a hard time here!” But the instructor started to give prompts that didn’t make sense. She said, “Find a chunk that you know,” or “Just sound it out,” or ” Get your mouth ready and say the first word.” These were things that I say to my students all the time but they weren’t helping me! Why was this instructor saying these things and they weren’t helping? More important, was this how my student’s felt when I uttered these same “supporting” statements?

While my peer was reading I was frantically trying to catch up and figure out how to read about DNA. I was in fear of her calling on me and putting me in the hot seat because I knew there was no way that I’d be able to read as fluently as two of my peers.

To my horror and dismay, the instructor called on me next. I had lost my place in my distress. I wanted to crumple up the paper. I wanted to push the paper away and say, “This is just a stupid exercise.” But everyone was looking at me.  I took a breath and tried to remember my reading tools. What makes senses? What patterns did I see? Here I was, in the hot seat trying to remember what the teacher had said. I looked at the words and just didn’t get it.

I read one sentence. One lousy sentence. I completely skipped over three words. I read at least four nonsense words in a jumbled up fashion. I guessed at three words. I couldn’t read fast enough and wished that the sentence wasn’t so long. I felt that all eyes were on me and no one wanted to continue to hear me stutter. When I finished, the teacher looked at the group of stunned teachers and asked,  “What did you learn about DNA?”

I couldn’t say a thing. I had no idea that we read anything about DNA. I was so focused on the words that no images came to my mind. If I was instructed to draw what I had learned my page would have been as black as a turned off screen.

My empathy for my students shot up 100 fold. They have to deal with this day in and day out. They continue to persevere and push through all the hard text that don’t make sense. They listen to our meaningless strategies to get your lips ready or look at the picture and try and try and try. This was the reason that I came today-to make sure that my students never feel like this again. To give them the tools that will not only make them successful but confident!

Today was the most important five minutes of my life because I got to walk in their shoes for five minutes and now will respect their path for the rest of my life!

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