While it may not be surprising that people have lots of misconceptions about dyslexia, what may shock some people is the fact that teachers are not exempt from this. Despite the fact it is believed to affect 1 in 10 of the UK population, some teachers admit to being under the impression that it is nothing more than a difficulty with reading, writing and spelling before they encounter it in the classroom. Knowledge of the issues relating to memory and organisation come later, or perhaps are only apparent through an individual’s personal experience of the condition.
This might be hard for people to comprehend, but we mustn’t be too hard on teachers. The remit of Initial Teacher Education and Continuing Professional Development is vast. Even if this wasn’t true, there is no escaping the fact that every child is different and so the presentation of dyslexia and the methods that alleviate the related difficulties will differ as a result. The good news is this correct assumption is now commonplace, whereas forty years ago those who had dyslexia would be labelled as stupid. While this is not the case, the impact on the intelligence argument still lingers; but not because teachers believe the students affected are unintelligent. Since referrals made by teachers can only be carried forward by senior staff members, it is them who decide what action is in the best interests of the child. If the teacher disagrees, their hands are still tied. So it is often much harder to help a child than they originally envisaged. Similarly, if parents and children are unwilling to acknowledge dyslexia then there is only so far teachers can go to help children.
This is more complicated by the fact that a one-size-fits-all approach is not practical. Dyslexia being seen as an issue only concerning letters is an outdated but prevalent myth. In demystifying it, teachers realise that someone with dyslexia needs work differentiated not just because they have dyslexia, but because dyslexia creates unique issues for them that will need to be addressed. Alternatively, they could have other difficulties that are unrelated to it, or the coping strategies they have found, means that it goes unidentified. It all just depends. No two people with dyslexia are the same. Scratch that. No two people are the same.
Teachers know this, but they don’t know what they don’t know until they encounter a particular child, circumstance or environment. So it’s a constant learning process for them in the classroom just as it should be for pupils, though it need not – and indeed should not – be a battle.