This is the 4th post of a serie of 12 by Marc from Ireland who struggles with dyslexia.
As promised I am going to talk about the years of my life that were primary school. These are the ones I least enjoyed and find it difficult to go back to.
Primary school is designed to give you the foundations to go on and receive a good education. The problem for me as for many children with learning difficulties is the fact these foundations are mostly based on reading, writing and spelling, the areas most affected by my dyslexia.
Primary school also sees the introduction of challenges that require skills which are affected by my dyspraxia, such skills being short term memory, co-ordination, organisation, time keeping skills/concept of time, and people skills. And even though primary school is where my difficulties really became a visible problem for the first time.
I had no diagnosis as dyslexic or dyspraxic which meant I had no help with these challenges.
Friday and the spelling test
I have somehow managed to blank out a lot of my primary school years from my head as I don’t like thinking about them but there are certain aspects no matter how hard I try I wont be able to forget.
For instance I wont forget the dreaded Friday spelling tests, we had our spelling books and we would be given words to learn every day and at the end of the week we were tested, as I’m sure most people had this experience.
Since my dyslexia affects my spelling and I wasn’t understanding the concept behind sounds of letters and words, I always failed my spelling tests no matter how hard I tried. I remember my parents helping me in every way imaginable, from trying to make it into a song to repeating them over and over and over again.
Each week I would feel I had tried harder then the previous and I was finally going to get them right and then each week I would fail them again. The worst part of this was Fridays in primary school were “no homework days” but for every word you got wrong in the spelling test you would have to write it out a number of times at home.
I always felt I was being punished but could never figure out why I wasn’t able to do it.
Had a teacher who thought I was lazy
If you ask me what was the worst part of primary school without even thinking I would be able to reply instantly with the answer, 3rd class. This was my first encounter of a teacher who really didn’t know how to handle a child with a learning difficulty.
I would get note after note home in my journal as I didn’t have my homework fully done, or because I had failed another spelling test or because I was, in his eyes, lazy. It is at this stage that it becomes very easy for a child to slip through the cracks, frustration began to set in, as did resentment, and anger.
Why am I not able to read at the same level as all my friends, why am I failing my spelling exams no matter how hard I try, and why am I being punished for this?
I got caught for asking
On several occasions I was sent outside the door by this teacher as he was sick of me slowing down the class. I remember on one occasion it was a Friday morning, we were in the middle of our spelling test, I had spent hours the night before and all week trying to learn them but I sat there blankly. I didn’t fancy another note home or being given out to again so I asked the person next to me how to spell them.
I got caught asking and was once again sent to stand outside the door for interrupting his class. I was upset at this so I decided instead of standing there like a bold boy I would walk upstairs and knock on the door of my older brothers classroom.
I asked to speak to my brother and when he came out to me I told him what happened, in the meantime while I was upstairs being cheered up by my brother my teacher had decided he would come out to me to give out for talking during a spelling test only to find I wasn’t there.
My primary school years are full of experiences like this. The same teacher insisted that I was slow and stupid and told my parents during a meeting that I should stay back and repeat the year as I was already several steps behind the rest of my class.
Of course my parent were the ones living with me, they could see I was not thick and they always insisted I had a difficulty of some sort, they also knew how upset this teacher made me feel and refused to let me be kept back.
Thank god they won the argument and I moved on. My mother has reminded me of several occasions when I was sat in his class, I would have got lost as to what was happening and feared I would be given out to again for slowing the class down so instead I would put my head on the desk and go to sleep. My mother was often called down to the school to bring me home as I had fallen asleep again.
The challenges of homework
Primary school also means the introduction of homework, this brings several challenges to a child with learning difficulties like me. Firstly there were 2 kinds of homework, the homework that the teacher has planned to give to the class as well as the homework you are given because you didn’t complete an exercise in class.
Where most kids only had the kind the teacher planned to give to the class, I always had to finish exercise as well as I was slower then the rest of my class at doing work so never finished anything on time in class so it was added to my homework.
Then there was the problem with taking down the homework, it was always put up on the blackboard at the end of the day 5 minutes before the teacher would say pack up your things. Most kids manage to read it off the board and write it into the homework journal in 5 minutes with no difficulties.
As I have mentioned on several occasions in my previous blogs I am a slow reader and my writing is bad. As a result I never managed to take down all my homework and before I knew it the teacher had cleared the board and was telling everyone to put on their coats and put there chair on the table. Because of this I would get in trouble the following day for not having all of my homework done.
Homework took ages
The final problem with homework is the time it takes to get it done. Where homework was designed to take most kids about 30 to 45 minutes I would be at it for a good 3 hours if not longer at home. My homework was the cause of many an argument in my house.
My mother would always sit with me to help me as she knew I had difficulties, 5 o clock would come and no dinner was ready as mam was still sitting with me helping me do my homework and dad would arrive in after a long day at work and have to take over from mam so she could cook the dinner.
As I got older I was getting more and more frustrated by the fact I was finding everything so difficult and the arguments at home were daily as I would refuse to do my homework or because I had thrown a book or a copy across the room in frustration.
If your reading this and have no understanding of learning difficulties you probably think I was just a bold child but I cant even try to describe how frustrating it is for a child with learning difficulties to endlessly try your hardest and still find it difficult to the point where you cant do it.
If your reading this as a parent of a child with learning difficulties this probably mirrors the situation in your house every day after school, and I urge you to keep your calm, be encouraging and supportive as that’s what your child needs.
When everyone around me had given up on me my parents were still there telling me I would be ok and I could get through it and do it. No matter how many arguments I caused while doing my homework they would still sit down with me every evening to help me do it.
A break from homework tantrums
There was a point where things got so bad my parents did need a break from my homework tantrums, luckily my aunt was a teacher in the other primary school in the town.
Instead of going home after school I would walk into the school next door and my aunt would take me back to her classroom, here we would sit at her desk and she would help me with my homework.
Being a primary school teacher herself she was able to help me do my homework and she had plenty of distractions for me any time I began to get frustrated, that’s not saying I stopped getting frustrated, however I wasn’t at home getting frustrated while my mam was trying to keep me calm and help me do my homework while trying to cook a dinner and make sure my brother was doing his homework too. By going to my aunts after school to do my homework it stopped homework becoming an argument between me and my parents at home.
Bullying, sniggering and exclusion
As previously mentioned my dyspraxia affects my people skills, I tend to be shy and nervous when around lots of people that I don’t know. Since I was so shy and awkward and because I was so slow and so far behind the rest of my class I became the easy target for any bullies in the school.
I went through my fair share of bullying in primary school right the way from 1st class up to 6th. This was another reason I didn’t like primary school. I remember being sat in the principals office on a few occasions because I was being bullied again and my parents would come down to the school and there would be a meeting and I would be told everything would be okay.
I would receive an apology and everything would go back to normal for a few weeks and then the smart comments, the sniggering and the exclusion from games at break time would all set back in and once again I would feel isolated and have another reason to be frustrated and angry with the education system which put me off wanting to go to school.
A window of amazing imagination
The one thing I remember more then anything else about primary school was the amount of time I spent gazing out the window. When I looked out the window I could leave my mind wander, I would watch the birds flying in the sky and I could just picture freedom.
Out there I wasn’t constantly getting in trouble, out there the birds can fly free and do as the please, out there I could see nothing that would frustrate me, out there nobody would judge or bully me.
I suppose I could thank my primary school years for allowing me to develop an amazing imagination, I would get lost in the scene outside the window imaging myself out there and not stuck in class.
These 6 years of my life were a vicious circle in which I fell further and further behind, my difficulties caused me to be behind my class which made me frustrated and to cheer myself up I would spend endless amount of time daydreaming of the freedom outside, the more I daydreamed the further behind I would fall as I missed what the teacher was saying.
Frustrated but I have managed to achieve…
Just thinking about these experiences reminds me of the frustration so much so that I am sitting here feeling frustrated now, however like I said at the beginning of this blog, primary school is designed to give you a good foundation to go on and receive a good education.
As this blog outlines my experience in primary school wasn’t positive, it had more failed exams then passed ones, surly this means I received a bad foundation. It probably does, I am still a slow reader and my reading comprehension age is much lower then everyone else my age and I still have and always will have the difficulties caused by my dyslexia and dyspraxia but look at all I have achieved on such a bad foundation.
I’m not the next Einstein, Isaac Newton or Stephen Hawking, I don’t claim to be super intelligent, but I have managed to achieve a first class honours degree and I have managed to prove myself capable and overcome my difficulties on many an occasion even after receiving such a bad foundation and that is what I want to do.
I would love noting more then to go back to my primary school teachers and ask them do they still think I’m thick or should I have been kept back?
But that would be wasted time, I use the above experiences to my advantage now. I can show others that they are not alone. I was there too and I have still managed to achieve most things I have set my mind to since primary school, as a person with learning difficulties the most important thing to remind yourself on a daily basis is what you have achieved and tell yourself that you will continue to achieve.
I will take this up again in my next blog where I will move forward into my secondary school years where things started to improve for me but everything was far from a smooth experience.
Thanks for taking the time to read this blog,