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Bad Teachers - Or Are They?

Commentary: Voice of Santa Barbara - Joan T. Esposito

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This article is being written in response to the numerous articles and letters to the editor blaming teachers, parents and the students for failing test scores. Let's work on the solution and stop pointing fingers. In regard to reading, I specifically want to address dyslexia and other learning disabilities because of their prevalence in school-age children. The National Institutes of Child Health and Human Services are funding research on dyslexia at several universities across the country. Some of the universities involved in the research are: University of Colorado, Yale, Johns Hopkins, Bowman Grey School of Medicine, Harvard/Beth Israel, University of Houston and Florida State. The re search is being conducted because dyslexia is the most common neurobehavioral disorder affecting children, about one in five. There are other learning disabilities but research has confirmed 75 to 80 percent of children with learning disabilities have their basic deficits in language and reading, which is commonly known as dyslexia. Dyslexia is hereditary. Studies have shown between 50 and 80 percent of the children in the juvenile justice system have untreated learning disabilities.

Are there really bad teachers, or are there teachers who have not been properly trained? Teachers are blamed by the public, parents and currently the politicians, for not being able to teach reading and writing skills to their students. The fault does not lie with the teachers but with the California teacher training Institutions.

There are wonderful teachers in our public school system who can teach reading and writing skills to students who have dyslexia. However, this is a small group of teachers who, at their own expense, attend dyslexia training workshops given by the private sector.

Teachers pay a fee to California teacher training institutions believing they will graduate with a teaching degree in English and/or special education. Enthusiastically they enter the classroom with 30 students only to find that the teacher training they received has not prepared them for some of their students.

Training of these teachers should take place before they graduate, not in the classroom. Although the majority of students with dyslexia are now placed into the regular education classrooms, both special and regular education teachers graduate from the California Higher Education Institute unprepared to teach reading and writing skills to those students who have learning difficulties. Teachers are graduating with a masters degree in special education without proper training in reading programs.

The solution is not to blame teachers, parents or students, but to take all the resources we have and direct them into intensive teacher training. We must keep in mind that a well-trained teacher cannot be trained in a week or a few months. No one program works for all students with a reading disability. A teacher should be trained in two or three reading methods specific for students for dyslexia. Not all teachers want to be trained but for those who do, districts should fund the training.

It is not expensive to train a teacher. It is more expensive not to train a teacher. The expense comes to the taxpayer when these children are not taught how to read and write. Illiteracy, truancy, teenage pregnancy, juvenile delinquency, drug and alcohol abuse, and homelessness are more expensive.

The schools have testing which can identify dyslexia. There are many multisensory reading programs that are effective in teaching students with dyslexia. In the early 1920s, Dr. Samuel Orton, professor of neuropsychiatry and neuropathology at Columbia University, was the American pioneer in the field of dyslexia (named strephosymbolia, meaning twisted symbols). In 1925, Dr. Orton worked with Anna Gillingham and Bessie W. Stillman in developing a multisensory program which was published in 1935.

The "Orton-Gillingham-Stillman approach is often described as the grandfather of many multisensory reading programs. The Slingerland Program, Alphabetic Phonics, Wilson Training, MTA, Herman Method are just a few that are based on the Orton-Gillingham-Stillman approach. Many successful reading programs in Europe, Canada, Australia and New Zealand are also based on Dr. Orton's work. The Lindamood Bell reading program is also an excellent program for teaching these children how to match the sound to the symbol on the page.

Finger-pointing does not address this public health issue. I recently heard an appropriate quote: "While elephants fight, the grass gets trampled."

The Texas Legislature has been leading the nation since 1985 in passing legislation for early identification of children with dyslexia and teacher training Teachers and children represent our future. We need to prioritize our teachers' and children's needs in Santa Barbara County.

Joan T. Esposito is past president of the California Learning Disabilities Association and founder of the Dyslexia Awareness & Resource Center in Santa Barbara. She advocates for children within the public school and court systems. She is currently consultant to the U.S. Department of Justice, relating to juvenile delinquency and learning disabilities.

Originally published in The Santa Barbara News-Press

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