As a child I had difficulty reading and writing and some teachers would make me feel less than intelligent which often led to anxiety and low self-esteem, if I thought my limitations were to be exposed. This was especially true when I had to read aloud, which was the perfect opportunity for the rest of the class to observe my apparent stupidity. I was subsequently diagnosed with dyslexia at the age of 15.
Having experienced language difficulties as a child, the thought of being an English teacher never crossed my mind. However, when I moved from the UK to Mexico my only real job prospect was English language teaching. I started as an English teaching rather reluctantly, but soon found that I was quite good at it. I believe that this is partly a consequence of my dyslexia. I can see three ways in which dyslexia has helped me as a language teacher.
The fact that some people need to devote a lot of time and effort to learning has always been obvious to me. If a student needs to hear, see and practice a piece of language many times, then it is my job to provide that for the student. If in the following classes more work is needed, then I accept this as being perfectly normal. Learning takes as long as it takes and getting frustrated doesn’t help anybody, least of all the students who need the most support.
As an adult I still can’t spell very well, but like many dyslexic adults I have developed strategies for remembering certain spellings. Non-dyslexic people seem to learn to spell with little conscious effort. I, on the other hand, have to approach the spelling of most words with a deliberate strategy. This has given me a level of strategic awareness for spelling that most non-dyslexic people have never had to develop. I incorporate these strategies into my teaching when needed.
Although creativity is not exclusive to the dyslexic mind, I have a fairly good level of creativity, which comes partly from having to develop learning strategies. Also as a child I found comfort in the arts and crafts because my learning difficulties were never exposed. It’s so true that we become good at what we enjoy, and more often than not that’s because we devote more time and effort to those activities. In this context, my creative abilities had a chance to develop. Being creative in teaching has its advantages because it helps the teacher respond to the ever changing dynamics of the classroom. It also makes you feel comfortable with the creative process, which inevitably involves getting things wrong many times before finding the right solution. And finally, and perhaps most importantly, creativity in the classroom makes for a more engaging and fun teaching and learning experience.
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Philip Haines is the Senior Consultant for Oxford University Press, Mexico. As well as being a teacher and teacher trainer, he is also the co-author of several series, many of which are published by OUP.