Until I was 9 Years old I was failing miserably at school. Back in the late 60’s and early ’70’s rote learning was all the rage with huge emphasis on spelling punctuation, grammar, and my personal worst…times tables. All this was drilled into us and tested almost daily, and unless we could pass (and I rarely could) we were in the bottom sets.
My favourite subject was biology, I loved animals and was fascinated by everything about them, I spent all my spare time caring for my pets or looking for newts and tadpoles, all of which I’d proudly take into school for ‘show and tell’. In fact I dreamed of being a vet when I grew up. But my biology teacher was a stickler for spelling punctuating and grammar and however imaginative and accurate my ideas, my work was always covered in ‘red pen errors’ and marked down. Sadly my biology teacher was also my maths teacher and maths being my absolute worst subject, rewarded me with weekly public humiliations in mental maths and times tables tests. The obvious conclusion to all of the above for both my teacher and myself was that I wasn’t very clever, and certainly not clever enough to be a vet! At 9 years old I was failing at everything.
Eventually the head teacher called my parents in for a meeting and told them that although I was “a lovely kind girl who tried very had, I just wasn’t very bright, I would certainly fail my upcoming entrance exams, and struggle to get any qualifications” In summary my parents were told them they should think of alternative education for me.
My school hadn’t picked up my dyslexia but my older brother’s dyslexia had been identified and he was going to Millfield School, a school school recognised for its support for dyslexia, so I was sent for an interview at Millfield.
The Headmaster ushered me into his office and with a kind expression he asked me to tell him about myself. So I dutifully repeated what my headmistress had said about me, that I wasn’t very clever and wouldn’t be able to pass any exams. He laughed as said ‘Oh we’re not bothered about exams, we can help you to pass those, but exams don’t mean you’re clever they just mean you are good at passing exams…we’re interested in finding what you’re really good at, and what do you love to do?” I spent then next hour telling him all about the things I loved to do and at the end of that time, he offered me a place at the school and I stated straight away.
I remember that day so vividly as it changed my life and is one of the main reasons I do what I do now. That day made me realise just how important attitude and focussing on strengths really is.
The teachers positive attitude to dyslexia and their focus on strengths meant that in just a few weeks I went from feeling like a failure to realising that I actually had potential, that tests were not the be all and end all, and that I was smart, just in different ways. Eventually my dyslexia was picked up and I was given the help I needed. From there on in I loved school.
Although Jamie Oliver wasn’t as lucky to have a school that focussed on his strengths, as he says in the clip below, “There are different types of intelligence and everyone has the ability to be brilliant”.
Levelling the playing field
I appreciate how very lucky I am to have had the education I’ve have had and it’s what drives me and the mission behind Made By Dyslexia. We want to help every dyslexic understand their potential and get support. We’ve known since the 1930’s, when Millfield was set up, how to identify and support dyslexia, and that with dyslexia comes this pattern of strengths. But still today most dyslexic kids are misunderstood and largely unsupported.
We also know that the current focus on exams, on spelling punctuation grammar and rote learning is seriously disadvantageous for dyslexics and won’t create the kinds of minds the future needs…as a charity we are campaigning hard for change.
Last week we held a Dyslexia Showcase at Millfield School, with some inspiring discussions with expert educators, successful dyslexics and students discussing all these points. It’s well worth a watch so click on image below to view.
Free Dyslexia Awareness Training
The first step to unlocking dyslexic potential is understanding it. We the help of the expert teachers at Millfield and the Schenck School in Atlanta we’ve created this free Dyslexia Awareness film based course with Microsoft. Be sure to check it out by clicking the image below.
Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.
So for every dyslexic kid, their parents and their teachers who are going though the stresses of end of year tests and exams, please keep focused on your Dyslexic Strengths, whatever they may be, as they really will take you far in life. Remember these wise words from famous inventor Henry Ford, Made By Dyslexia …because attitude really is everything.
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