Primary school teacher Jadie Hurrell discusses how she managed her dyslexia during the PGCE and reveals her frustration with the academic focus of teacher assessment
The first thing you should know about me is I have dyslexia and I have never been shy about it. So please excuse any mistakes that may be found in the following blog (although spell checker is a saviour). The second thing you should know is that I recently graduated and obtained a PGCE. Something that at many points during the year-long course I did not think was possible.
So where do I start? Although the PGCE is only one year long, it can at times feel like a decade. Anyone thinking of doing it should know this. The PGCE is hard. If you have done it, or know someone who has, they can confirm this. There are long nights when getting to bed before one in the morning seem like an illusion, where putting on makeup and heels and socialising were something that only others did. There are times when your house mates will forget what you look like because your face is buried into a laptop and lesson resources, and they only know you’re home because you’re rounding up yoghurt pots and milk cartons for the creative area. However, the light is, by your second placement things get easier, you create your methods and time scales.
So, some background information on me, before I hand out advice. I’m 23, live in Wales, and think anyone who trained to teach at secondary school is brave, really brave. I was diagnosed with dyslexia in the first year of secondary school which, luckily for me, has meant that I have had 12 years of finding ways to amend an aspect of my life to make it easier. As I write this blog post, my page colour has a purple tint, the paper I will print it out on will be yellow, as are all draft copies of work I have written. I have people who will proof read work for me, these people are amazing. They don’t work for the university or get paid, they are simply my family and friends who have watched me struggle to spell simple words (simple being one of them) and who have offered their brains to help. These people are precious.
Although I was lucky to be diagnosed with dyslexia at 11, the years I spent in primary school were awful, being made to stand up and spell words and those who spelt them right were the first to leave and go home at the end of the day. Sounds like something out of a Victorian history book, right? But no, unfortunately this is a memory I hold, and one I would never ever as a teacher wish to create for any other student.
Being dyslexic, as with many things, made the PGCE even harder, but this was not the only factor that made it hard. There were demoralizing moments, at some point I was even asked in a roundabout way, by someone meant to be seen as an mentor, if I thought I could teach children when I could not spell myself. This is naive. Dyslexia effects way more than your ability to spell. It affects organisation, timing, reading and in some cases balance. But why should a disability like that stop someone achieving their dream?
There is a dyslexic centre to go to for help. However, some students, like myself, were placed around hour away from their homes with only public transport to rely on (carrying a puppet theatre on the bus can result in some funny looks) and the support centre was often closed by the time I could get there. Lack of communication between the university and placement school resulted in lots of extra unnecessary written work, something that I would then be penalised on for my spelling mistakes or grammatical errors, affecting my reviews.
As I mentioned before, I have never been shy about admitting I have dyslexia, I know that some people can be, but I believe that sharing this with people helps me, it allows them to ask questions and, in turn, allows me to answer them.
So here are my top tips for being dyslexic and going into teaching:
• Planning: The PGCE comes with a lot of planning and planning documents. Some of these you will not be able to amend because of school policies, some however you will. Find out which ones you can change. I changed one simply by rearranging the questions, and the new layout meant I could read it much easier.
• Another document you will need to complete is a pupil tracker. This had space to write how every child was responding to your teaching, so 28 children to write about on one piece of A4. I changed it to one page for each group in my class, this made it much easier to look at.
• During lectures don’t be afraid to ask to have the PowerPoints amended to suit you. This may be forgotten by lecturers, it was many times for me. Remind them, they’re busy. You cannot learn if you cannot read.
• Ask your school if you can print in colour, if that’s what helps you, or if they have a printer where you can print on coloured paper. Schools are surprisingly co-operative and you may find fellow dyslexics appear.
• Keep an eye on your school experience file. Organise it immediately. Sit and think about how it would best work for you, build it up and take it to your link tutor, show them and explain why it is organised as it is. When you arrive at school do the same, show you mentor and senior mentor why you have it like this, it will help with file checks.
• Copy and paste: Find a copy of the framework online and copy/paste the skills you’ll be using, this is not cheating and by typing you could make a mistake.
• Inevitably you will fall behind on work, so have a blank copy of every planning sheet in your file so you can quickly jot down by hand what’s happening, this will prove useful for file inspections.
• Colour coding: This may be just me but I colour code everything. My weekly timetable and my resource file, co-operated together. Maths time blue, maths resources under the blue sections. I could see what was happening without having to read it.
One thing that confused me about the PGCE was while on my second placement my grades rose from mainly twos (very good) to all ones (excellent). These reviews were based on the way I conduct a lesson and on the way that the children listened, yet when I wrote an academic piece of work I failed, risking my qualification actually being achieved. How can it be if someone can write a fantastic piece of work, but teach at a level three could pass a course over someone with a disability who teaches, according to an assessor, excellent lessons? It was moments like this that made me want to quit the course and lose faith in my ability to teach, but when I returned to the class on a Monday and saw the children had brought in something from home to do with our lessons or remembered something from my lessons, my faith was restored.
Being a teacher is not only about my spelling, reading or academic levels, it’s about passion, influence and seeing your hard work and late nights being transferred to all those children that trust you when you stand in front of them or sit beside them and teach them five days a week.
Jadie Hurrell trained as a primary school teacher and lives in North Wales. She will be doing supply work from September.