The ABC of ELT

Confessions of a Dyslexic English as a foreign language Teacher

As you can probably guess from the title this is going to be a very personal post and I hope you’ll bear with that.

This week has been an amazing week. Truly, incredible.

It started last Monday with saying good bye to my mum at the airport as she left for England taking the first batch of my stuff with her, marking the end of my time in Ukraine. It’s been an incredible two years as I said yesterday filled with ups and downs and definitely overhung with the dark cloud of dyslexia on the horizon.

On Friday I gave a talk at the IH online teachers conference about Dyslexia in a hope to help teachers be better equipped to enable students like me to learn foreign languages. I argued that there are characteristics of Dyslexic people who HELP them to learn foreign languages and I believe it. [click here to go to the talks online.] But by Sunday evening my old nemesis was back.

I published a simple post about the last two years and someone pointed out there were typos.

Let’s be honest, with the online community people can be pretty judgemental about typos. Pierce Morgan told Wayne Rooney to get off twitter for his poor grammar [the irony of a former tabloid editor criticising language is worthy of note.] and the patrol of Grammar Nazi’s can be a constant threat of the most causal of web users. In fact, on occasions I have been that guy.

Before I continue, I should point out that this person was very gracious and very caring. Their message was definitely not meant offensively, was definitely useful and I encourage that correction, It’s the best way to learn. However, it can feel too much sometimes.

Dyslexia can be a judgemental label, an excuse or a niggle at the back of your mind that constantly tells you to give up.

When I first was told I was Dyslexic, it meant nothing to me at all. It was just a word that had no weight and apparently, along with my glue ear which caused partial deafness till I was 8, explained my lack of progress at school, especially with English. To give you some idea of my troubles;

  • I couldn’t use paragraphs till I left primary school, which I then promptly forgot how to use.
  • I managed to get the difference between weather and whether 2 years ago. As well as Quite, Quit (the easy one) and Quiet
  • Using capitals correctly still escapes me, especially when handwriting. For some reason my mind just likes certain capitals and doesn’t like others.
  • Remembering an event or important announcement is a challenge that requires multiple diaries which can still lead to thinking that my mum is coming out a week later than she is (and then finding out two days before she arrives that she arrives…in two days! ]
  • Forgetting even simple words like Business and writing Buisness on the board, then getting corrected by a student. [true story]

And so on.

All in all, it is exhausting, depressing and makes me feel like a giant fraud. There are many points where I just feel like my time is running out as a teacher. At some point someone is going to tell me to stop and give up…and I’ll do it.

I really don’t know how to feel about this D word that hangs above my head. I used to use it as an excuse “Well I can’t do that because I’m Dyslexic. Give me extra time, because I’m Dyslexic. etc.”

I’ve been bullied because of it. At school one of the girls told all my friends not to hang around me as they “might catch Dyslexia” and be dumb like me.

And I’ve been rejected from jobs because of my spelling and grammar mistakes. I’ve even rejected myself from applying because I felt I couldn’t.

I’ve been quick to talk about being Dyslexic and I’ve tried my best to hide it (out of fear of what others would think and due to what I myself think).

Basically, I don’t know how to feel about it. I really don’t.

I’ve taken so many different tacks and don’t have any definitive answers. I try and just be aware of my difficulties,

  • Look for homophones,
  • Use technology with spellchecks that underline mistakes.
  • Use WordPress plugins that look for grammar mistakes,
  • Have a handy dictionary at the side of the classroom just in case it’s needed (by the students of course).

However, it’s those moments of frantically searching a blog post at one in the morning so that no one else realises the mistakes you made…and you can’t find them. You notice that two words have become one (somehow) and you change a couple of phrases…but where are these typos! How can I mark a students writing, if I can’t mark my own.

After a night of rather restless sleep I know I just have to get on with it. I have classes today and I have to teach them. I love teaching, I love teaching English. But I do sometimes feel like a giant fraud.

About Chris Wilson

I'm an English Language teacher based in Krakow, Poland. I enjoy writing, using technology and playing the Ukulele.

4 Replies

  1. SophiaKhan Eajournal

    Hi Chris, thanks for sharing such a personal post. I dont know much about dyslexia but I’d like to understand it better, which I do a bit, after reading this. I regularly read your blog and feel jealous of your many and varied contributions to the ELT community, but never had an inkling of this. Sounds like you have overcome a lot to achieve what you have, please don’t let a couple of typos bring you down. Your contribution is much more important than that 🙂 Sophia

    1. Thanks so much for your comments and kind words. Perhaps I just needed to blow off steam but I’m glad I wrote it. Thanks once again.

  2. Sue Annan

    Hi Chris. This is a very timely post, as I just interviewed someone who is very dyslexic for a trainee position on my next CertTESOL course. I gave him all the facts about the intensiveness of the course, and left him to make the decision, as he will know whether he can bring something to the table or not. I worried about taking his money and then him not finding a job very easily at the end of the course. How did you cope with the training?

    1. Hi Sue, I’ll reply briefly and try and get a full blog post response soon. I think there is an element where it will always be personal. My Dyslexia is very different from even my brothers’s (one has real trouble writing and is studying Engineering, the other is a copy writer). If he knows/classifies himself as Dyslexic he is probably aware this will be hard for him and he might fail (I certainly knew that).
      Ironically my biggest issue during my course was management and organisation (a common trait) and this lead to such things as forgetting to bring materials/ steps of a lesson.
      Spelling was, of course, an issue on a couple of occasions but usually only with emergent language, otherwise I just made sure I prepared in advance.
      My trainer asked me about a couple of typos on my first lesson plan (which was handwritten) and when it came out I was Dyslexic she took a brillant line of “Ok, that explains that but be more careful.” which I think is the best way forward, accept and understand but point out where improvement in needed and treat equally as well.
      Other than that I think I felt it was as hard as everyone else on the course. I don’t think any of my co-trainees realised or saw anything different about me.
      Obviously each person is different, one of my brothers could no way do a course whereas the other wouldn’t even need to make a comment. I guess be supportive and understand but set the same target as everyone.
      I hope that helps. I’ll definitely do a post as soon as I can on it but do put more questions here/twitter if I can help.

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