by Jeanne Schopf
I had been teaching as an elementary teacher for 17 years when my beliefs on how to teach reading were shattered.
Prior to my revelation, I had earned a master’s degree in reading, attended so many conferences and workshops, and read every professional book about reading that I could buy. I was confident that I knew everything about how to teach reading and writing.
Yet despite all my efforts, my daughter couldn’t read.
As a parent, I raised my children in the way that any knowledgeable reading teacher would recommend: I read great literature – from picture books to chapter books – every day, and I surrounded them in a literate environment that was rich in strong oral language. When my children started school, I knew that my oldest would have challenges to overcome because of her early birth at 27 weeks and that we would do everything we could to help her through school.
My youngest, however, was born at 40 weeks and had a very typical childhood. She was an early walker and had strong oral language skills, so I thought she would have a normal reading trajectory. In spite of her verbal advantages, however, she struggled to read.
I kept on reading her good books, like my teacher self would tell me, and I believed she would catch on eventually. When she was in second grade, she received extra reading support, yet she still fell behind her grade-level peers. But, I figured that she was young, and if I just kept reading to her – the way I was taught as an educator – the reading would come to her when she was ready.
Then, when she became a third-grader, I figured that I could teach her to read as her third-grade teacher. I mean, I had all that training, and I knew everything about reading. So, I used everything that I was taught as a reading teacher, but she continued to struggle, no matter what I did.
My gut told me that she had dyslexia, but at that time, there was very little information about the disability. I believed that she would overcome this challenge because she was smart, creative and very verbal. I was wrong.
I started learning about dyslexia. A neuropsychologist confirmed what I believed to be true, and as a parent and reading teacher, I had to come to grips with this truth. I had to realize that nothing I was taught in college or workshops or conferences or books had prepared me to teach her to read.
Since her diagnosis, I have put all of my time and energy into learning. about dyslexia, how the brain learns to read and what science has been telling educators for 40 years. I have attended Orton-Gillingham training sessions all over the state and taken courses on the science of reading.
Now, as an educator, I’m driven to help those children who have been left behind – not because their teachers did not try to help them, but because the science is not in the classrooms and not in teachers’ professional-development training.
Learning to read is not natural – it’s not like talking and walking. A child must be taught to read and write explicitly, systematically and sequentially.
As parents and as educators, we believe that we must teach our children everything we know, yet so many times, our children teach us. They teach us how to challenge what we’ve been taught, how to fight for what we believe in and that despite our best efforts, we may come up short – but they will overcome.
Jeanne Schopf of Sturgeon Bay is a reading interventionist, literacy coach and National Board-certified teacher in Door County.