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Beyond the Letters: Insights on Navigating Dyslexia in Education

An often overlooked learning disability, dyslexia can be a frustrating struggle for students and teachers. In this interview, we spoke with Heather Bennett, a parent and former K-12 teacher from Oklahoma who has dyslexia. We’re getting a real-life perspective on the challenges, experiences, and techniques that helped her rise above the struggle that affects about 20% of the population.  

Can you share some personal experiences from your childhood that highlight the challenges you faced with dyslexia?

In second grade, I was in the lowest-level reading group. At the time, they called it Title 1 for the program, and I had to go after school for extra reading.  They worked on different reading things with me, and I didn’t understand why. No one ever explained it to me. 

The other kids in that group were children who struggled in lots of areas, especially socially. I didn’t relate to that group of kids, and it didn’t make sense to me that I was “dumb.” That sounds terrible to say, but that’s how I felt. My friends were in these other levels, and I knew I was socially and academically capable in lots of other school concepts. I just struggled with reading and math. But because of that, I often tried to fake my ability to feel worthy to be in a different group. 

How did your dyslexia affect your academic performance, and did you feel teachers were aware of your struggles at the time?

I don't feel like they were aware at all of how I was struggling. Maybe in hindsight, but no one ever brought up the issue with my parents. I always had Bs and Cs in my classes. But, somehow, when I understood a subject, I would excel at it above other people in the class. So, it never made sense to me why I, academically, was so inept in certain things while others came much easier to me. 

I wasn’t a problem kid. I was a rule follower. But because of my dyslexia, I think a lot of teachers felt like I wasn’t trying my hardest.

To be perfectly honest, though, in some cases, I wasn’t. If the concept was hard for me, I would shut down and not try as hard. I never read books or anything. I was a slow reader; it took forever for me to get through a book and get through the information. This is really ironic for me now because I read a book a day. 

The first time I realized I might have dyslexia, I was in college in this lecture about dyslexia and its misconceptions. It really resonated with me. At the time, I was in a beginner math class that I had to pass in order to move on. My teacher suspected I might have it and taught math to me in a new way. He broke it down and explained the why behind the steps instead of just having me memorize facts. Ultimately, he was the one who encouraged me to take the screening for dyslexia.

Were there specific teaching methods or strategies that you found particularly helpful in overcoming challenges related to dyslexia?

The most important tool for me in dealing with dyslexia was learning how to read for enjoyment. It helped me to look at stories differently. When I read under pressure, it was more difficult to comprehend. But in reading for pleasure, I could slow it down and re-read the same page if I wanted to. It changed my brain. 

I’ve also found that familiarity makes a big difference. If I’m unfamiliar with vocabulary or the text, then it’s challenging to understand. With dyslexia, you have to see and hear a word multiple times for it to be a part of your vocabulary—more than other kids do. I have to see it several times before I say and use it in my own language.

As a teacher, how did your personal experience with dyslexia influence your teaching approach?

Having dyslexia definitely influenced how I listen to kids. And it made me try harder to understand how someone else is processing something in a different way than how I might. 

I love hearing kids give unique answers! 

When kids didn’t grasp a concept, it also helped me be more creative in my approaches and gave me leeway for them to have their own perspectives. I thought more about how what works for them. Especially with reading, I’m a huge believer that they have to find something they enjoy. 


Written by Rachel Jones

Education World Contributor

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