August 23, 2016

Confessions of a Teacher: I No Longer Hide My Dyslexia

DSC_0503As a young teacher in 1989, Lorna Wooldridge went to a course to learn more about how to help students who struggle with reading. Little did she know, that course would change her entire life.

On that day, Wooldridge discovered she, in fact, is dyslexic herself. And thus began a life-long journey to help others.

We had the honor of catching up with Mrs. Wooldridge, who is Learning Ally’s August Tutor of the Month. Here is her fascinating story:

Hello Lorna. We want to start with the fascinating story of how you discovered you are dyslexic yourself.

I started my teaching career in London, England in 1986, working at a school in a social priority area. However, I didn’t have any idea how to identify and help children with dyslexia until 1989 when I was given the opportunity to study at the Roehampton Institute, for a Certificate of Professional Practice with the title “Teaching Children with Reading and Writing Difficulties/Dyslexia.” That first training session changed my life forever. The late Jean Augur who taught the class, was the author of This Book Doesn’t Make Sens, Cens, Sns, Seens, Sense, and served as the Education Officer of the British Dyslexia Association. She herself was the mother of three dyslexic boys. As she explained what dyslexia was, I realized the description fit me perfectly.

After two years of evenings and weekends, I came away with the certificate and the knowledge that I had dyslexia, though I didn’t dare admit that at the time. Barely out of teaching college, I feared for my job if anyone learned about this, and I kept this knowledge secret for years.

The good news was that, armed with the Hickey Multisensory Language Method, developed by Jean’s mentor Kathleen Hickey and based on the Orton-Gillingham Approach, I was able to make a difference in the lives of the students struggling in my own classroom. I went on to take a position as a special needs teacher, working with small groups and individuals. It became a passion that never left me.

You must have so many stories over the years! What, to you, is the most rewarding aspect?

That’s easy: Watching the students I have worked with over the years go from insecure non-readers, to reading and writing independently, and growing in confidence.

Straight out of college, I was often at a loss trying to help students struggling with reading; my initial training simply didn’t prepare me for working with this population of 1 in 5 students. Armed with the right knowledge, it was exciting to find I could actually make a difference for these kids, many of whom were already being written off as unlikely to amount to much.

What advice can you offer a parent who is concerned about his/her child’s reading ability?

Dr Selznick, the author of The Shutdown Learner and School Struggles, likes to say “go with your gut,” because you are probably right.

The regret I hear most often from parents is they didn’t come for tutoring help sooner, and delayed having their child assessed.

I usually share Susan Barton’s version of the Warning Signs of Dyslexia, and loan out my copy of Sally Shaywitz’s classic book, Overcoming Dyslexia. However, I also highly recommend getting an assessment from an educational psychologist to pinpoint a student’s strengths and weaknesses. This helps me better support them and individualize their remediation.

How do you use Learning Ally’s services in your practice?

I am a part of the Learning Ally Referral Network. Once a student has been assessed by an educational psychologist and given a diagnosis of a learning difficulty, I’m also able to refer them for Learning Ally’s services.

Ten out of our twelve Winning Studentcurrent students have membership. We check in with our students regularly to see what books they are ‘ear’ reading and always encourage them to be part of the competitions and reading challenges Learning Ally offers. As I write, six of our students are taking part in the Summer Reading Together competition, and one of our students was the July winner for the “most twenty minutes read!”

I have attended several Yes! Ambassador events with students and their parents, and I’m hoping that at least one of our students will consider becoming a Yes! Ambassador in the future.

Learning Ally provides highly informative webinars, in-person events, and online training; and both my husband and I have taken full advantage of these opportunities. This has encouraged and inspired us and helped us better support students and parents with the most up to date knowledge in the field of dyslexia.

I no longer hide my dyslexia and speak very openly about it as a way to encourage others, especially my students.

It has been quite a journey, but working as a dyslexic teacher and a tutor of children with dyslexia has given me a unique perspective. Helping others, and discovering as much as I can about this condition has become a passion.

 

Lorna ProfileMore About Lorna Wooldridge, B.Ed: As a private-practice tutor in northern New Jersey, Lorna specializes in working with students who have dyslexia. This has also included multiple-deficit students with central auditory processing disorder, dysgraphia, ADD and ADHD and executive-function issues. She works alongside her husband, Phil, who also supports their students with the latest assistive technology. Check out their website: WiseOwlServices.org

Learning Ally LogoLearning Ally is a national not-for-profit that provides services, like human narrated audiobooks, to students who have print disabilities. To find out more about Learning Ally, visit LearningAlly.org

 

 

 

 

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– Jules Johnson


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