Boy, did the summer of 2018 fly by! It’s already time to think about getting the kids back to school. For some children, the beginning of the school year is a highly anticipated time full of new possibilities, but for other children, just the thought of going back to school causes anxiety.
Sadly, I fell into the second group as a kid; my anticipation of a new school year caused massive anxiety. I did not enjoy school because I felt inadequate compared to my peers. I was a dyslexic student at a time when dyslexia was not understood and often not even recognized. This made it hard for me, and most of my school memories are an unhappy blur. However, there were two teachers early in my life that I remember very clearly and they both taught first grade.
Mrs. Carson (upper left corner of the photo below) was my first-grade teacher and I have to say that she was probably my favorite teacher. I liked her so much, I took her class twice! Not really, I had to repeat the first grade because I was held back, and Mrs. Carson was my teacher both times. The good news is that I really did like Mrs. Carson. She reminded me of my grandmother. She was very kind and patient with me and never made me feel like I was stupid—and that was good because I did a fine job of that all on my own. And that’s where Mrs. Davis came into the picture.
Mrs. Davis was a special education teacher and out of concern, Mrs. Carson had consulted with her about my difficulties. It was my understanding that Mrs. Davis had been taking some extension courses about dyslexia and recognized my symptoms. That’s when I was officially diagnosed as dyslexic. From that point forward I was excused from Mrs. Carson’s class for one hour each day and Mrs. Davis worked with me one-on-one and helped me with my reading—and that was a huge turning point in my education.
Even after all of these years I still remember my one-on-one sessions with Mrs. Davis quite vividly. I remember Mrs. Davis opening a book that I liked (mainly because it had lots of pictures) and the first thing she did was to cover the pictures, which startled me because I had always gravitated to just using the pictures to interpret a story. Once the pictures were covered, she would take a card and place it under a sentence so I could better focus on each word. Then she would step me through each word, identifying the syllables and helping me to sound them out.
Today we have a much better understanding of dyslexia: it impacts much more than just reading, and it doesn’t go away, but ALL kids, dyslexic or not, can learn to read well and succeed in school with the right kind of help. (See Literacy and Dyslexia: The Problem and Real Solution) And although dyslexia was not well understood at the time, the kindness, patience and one-on-one attention that I received from Mrs. Carson and Mrs. Davis helped me tremendously. I will always appreciate their efforts and help. They planted the idea that it was possible for me to learn to cope with my dyslexia. When that idea finally took root and bore fruit, it was a crucial revelation in my life.
Who was your favorite teacher and why? I would love to hear from you about the teacher (or teachers) you are grateful for and how they made a real difference in your life.
If going back to school makes your child anxious, what can you do to help?
- Take little field trips to school over the summer: walk through the halls, find the cafeteria, the restrooms, etc., so your child will know the lay of the land and not feel lost.
- Talk to the guidance counselor before school starts: let them know your concerns, express observations of the ways your child may be struggling to read or learn and ask for a meeting to help place the child with a teacher who will be a good match for your child’s needs.
- Have conversations with your child regularly about how they feel. When you notice subtle changes in facial expression, changes in behavior, outbursts, trouble sleeping, eating too much or too little, these can be signs of anxiety. The scariest thing in the world for a child is to be experiencing strong, troubling feelings and have no one with whom to talk them through.
- Structure is key for kids who struggle with anxiety around school. Regular mealtimes, regular bedtimes, support during homework periods, and involvement with more creative activities like art, music, or band can go a long way towards giving your child more emotional bandwidth.
- Teach your children about courage. Courage isn’t the absence of fear or uncertainty, it’s when both things coexist—when your children are able to keep moving forward with an activity in spite of being anxious. The more anxious or overwhelmed your children feel, the more courage they’re demonstrating as they show up for challenging situations.
- Take advantage of Dyslexia Resources I’ve shared on my blog.
This jaunt down memory lane got me thinking that it only takes one (or two!) special teachers to make a difference in a child’s life. Clearly, this memory has stayed with me through the years, because two of my picture books feature caring teachers that make a significant difference in a student’s life. I have been thrilled with the positive feedback that I’ve received from both parents and teachers on how these books have benefited their kids.
In The Incredible Martin O’Shea is about Martin, an energetic boy with a big imagination who has trouble paying attention in school. A visiting professor helps Martin to understand how learning by paying attention in school combined with using his very active and incredible imagination can help him to enjoy many real-life adventures.
The Higgledy-Piggledy Pigeon is the story of a carrier pigeon named Hank who has a poor sense of direction due to dyslexia. Hank’s caring teacher patiently helps him learn to compensate for his learning difference and this has a tremendous impact on his life.