Finding Inspiration in Every Turn
How and why I tutor children with dyslexia
and additional needs.
My Story - Part 1
I’m in the moment, teaching my student and talking with parents who share the depths of concern they have for their child – what they’ve already been through, and their hopes of a better education and future for their child – Their feelings of frustration and anxiety - and I wonder how I got here, doing this kind of work?
Well, my family have a history of poverty and neglect, which impacted upon my mother’s learning. She also had two siblings who had more severe learning difficulties, and schooling was scarce, especially if you didn’t have shoes or decent clothes to wear.
My mother was born in 1932 and bought up during the 2nd world war, and unfortunately it affected her father who spent all his money on drink. He was violent and scary and cared little for his family. He used to regularly beat up my grandmother and all the children were severely neglected. Mum, being the oldest of 5, was appointed the leader and had to look after them all, plus a gang of other children who were poor in the neighbourhood. They lived to survive. Mum and her siblings had no bedding except a pile of old, dirty coats. They had no proper meals, so, along with their dog on lookout, they had to steal food to eat. Schooling was very hit and miss – she hardly attended because of the teasing, and the uncaring school, who did not help the poor or neglected children.
When mum left school, (with very little education, and unable read and write very well), she went into domestic service. She was happy there for a while, until the cook died, the only person who took her under her wing and became like a mum to her, (and who took the time and had the patience to teach her how to read, write and tell the time). That was the end of her world – it was shattered, so heartbroken, she ran away, to London, where the “streets are paved with gold” and unfortunately stepped into a life of darkness – and that’s a whole other story. The good news is that mum had learned to read and write, despite her bad start; and she wrote her life story of getting free from the darkness she was involved in, plus poetry, which have become well-known and circulated around the world.
In between this time, my mum married and had children. I have an older half-sister and two brothers who are twins, and I’m the youngest. My sister is very bright and had no difficulties learning, quite the opposite in fact, but unfortunately, my two brothers did. We wonder how much of this is genetic, but my brothers were eventually deemed unteachable in a mainstream school and were sent off to a specialist boarding school, coming out of education with nothing to help them move forward in their lives. Meanwhile, I struggled in school. I was just average in most things, and very poor at maths. I felt there was no hope of me succeeding in anything of any significance. Schooling and education was not a success for me, not until I left school and began my own journey of education.
My Story - Part 2
I almost forgot to tell you about my cousin, Alison. Alison was my cousin on my dad’s side, and unfortunately, she was born with severe Cerebral Palsy. She could not walk or dress herself etc, so her mum, who was a champion single mum, looked after her on her own. . They used to come and stay with us for short periods, for holidays. And what a time we had! Eileen, Alison’s mum was so full of fun and had a great sense of humour, but she hid her pain in drink. I'll never forget the time when mum, myself and Eileen were in church and they served communion. Eileen said in an audible voice, "You didn't tell me they served snacks here!" Well, that was it for us, we could not focus on the rest of the service! That was Eileen!
Although Alison was not able to walk or dress herself etc, she had all her mental faculties. I used to play with her and read stories to her. On several occasions, myself and my brother Steve, took her out in her wheelchair to the park. Steve used to run with her in the wheelchair and she used to squeal with delight. He also put her on the swing and pushed her – I was nearly wetting myself in case she fell off, but she absolutely loved it. Seeing the joy in her, seeing the pain in her, seeing the life in her, ignited something in me about children and young people with special needs. So there and then, when I was a teenager, I declared I wanted to work with children with special needs, not knowing that in the days ahead, that’s exactly what I would be doing. Unfortunately, my cousin died when she was just 16 from heart failure whilst undergoing an operation. But I will never forget her. Never.
Skipping forward many years, I got married to a divorced man with two children of his own, of whom he had the custody. This was a whole new adventure, with many twists and turns, ups and downs.
During this time, I also became a mum myself. I observed and learned that both my boys had developmental issues – they were intelligent but struggled with social, educational and specific learning issues, including Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, Asperger’s Syndrome; and this became a fight for me. Mine was a fight for their rights. I had to fight for them to receive the services they needed, especially at school. This also increased my confidence, strength, knowledge and skills to be an advocate for children with learning and social issues. I trained for work with children and specialised in special needs. Later on, I trained as a private tutor and trained to teach children with dyslexia. I worked in a school as a dyslexia teacher and became involved in tutoring children with specific learning difficulties, privately. I have learned so much during this time, and really connected with the children and parents I have worked with.
My Story - Part 3
After about 5 years of tutoring children with specific learning difficulties, I realised that I was also unofficially coaching parents through the ups and downs and processes they were going through with their children. (unpaid of course!) I had a great relationship with the parents of children that I taught, and It dawned on me one morning that I’d just spent another 30 minutes after a paid lesson, talking through the education and schooling system and the options available. I also realised that these particular parents weren’t the only ones I was coaching – I was advising and helping ALL the parents of the children I worked with, drawing on my own knowledge, skills, and experience.
I came to release that I could also offer a coaching programme for parents who want it. I have the life experience of raising stepchildren (and that’s a whole new story) and children with development issues and I have qualifications in working with and teaching children. So, to add to my skills, I began training in life-coaching and NLP, a Child Psychology course, plus others!
So, on my journey of tutoring children with specific and additional needs, I’ve had a variety of children with a variety of difficulties, some with a diagnosis, of Asperger’s, ADHD, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, behavioural difficulties, Down’s Syndrome and some with no diagnosis at all. I tried a variety of strategies and resources along the way, from a very structured Alpha to Omega type, (along with games of course) to making reading integral to children’s learning. I learned that it’s not actually just the structure that you use, but the instructor’s (being myself!) openness to learn and incorporate new ways of delivering the material, to be adaptable, and above and beyond that, to really know the children you work with, what their needs are, and really care about them and their progress and find ways of getting them from A to B.
My Story - Part 4
I asked to work with some twin girls, who were 8 years old. One of whom had no confidence at all in her reading skills or abilities, and to be honest, her behaviour, well both of them, was hard to manage. I never knew quite what to expect from them from one week to another. I used to pray before I went that it would go okay. It was a battle in most lessons, but eventually, I found a way. I need to separate them in the end and teach one for 30 minutes and then the other one, because they distracted each other and couldn’t focus. I needed to adapt the
As a specialised tutor, I was their learning style and incorporated arts and crafts, besides the games, to keep these girls focused and on task. It worked for them. After a few months the girl’s teacher commented to their mum that the girls had made tremendous progress and was astounded at the turn-around. Well, that lifted me after all the hard work, effort, time and energy I’d put into these girls, it made a difference, and that’s got to count for something!
I worked with another boy, 9 years old, who was home-schooled. He was and is brilliant at maths, but not reading – this was his biggest frustration and fear. Like other children who find reading hard, his attention was limited, and he avoided it as much as possible. His mum was brilliant but also found it frustrating trying to teach him the way she knew and was taught – it just didn’t work for him. So, starting from scratch (with 99 % of the lessons being on the internet) using a mixture of reading texts, phonics, and games etc, he learned to read. It took him a year of one-hour lesson per week. He got through 36 reading books and 6 levels of reading and is now a steady reader and continuing to make progress.
Not forgetting one little boy with Down’s Syndrome I started working with about 5 years ago. I was nervous at first that I might not be able to help him, as he was falling behind his peers at mainstream school and his behaviour was deteriorating. He did not learn phonics very easily, but surprisingly, he has responded well to tutoring, and he is now in a new specialised school where I can collaborate with his teachers - and this makes all the difference. And he is such a sweetheart – yes, I still work with him! I tried all sorts of approaches to help him learn to read and understand basic maths, and now I would say, he has become quite a good reader, and he is still making progress! I’m very proud of him and I know he will do well as he continues to mature and become an adult.
I have found it is a journey that children that we have to walk through, but it’s certainly not a race or competition - and we should never make it that, just a journey. My approach to help children to achieve, is to consult with parents and schools where possible, and to work together for the good of the child, really getting to know the child and work on their level and on their gaps in understanding, building their confidence and their skills at every level. My teaching style may be friendly and informal, but lessons are well-planned and structured, multi-sensory and fun. We always play games that are appropriate to learning and I haven’t come across any children that do not enjoy the lessons!
Fun makes learning enjoyable and achievable, but I must tell you now, it takes effort, time and dedication and there is no “quick fix.” This is a journey of discovery, a journey of courage and of growing in confidence, skills, knowledge, strength and personal resilience – and every single child I have worked with has made good progress and strides forwards – without exception.
I get the connection now – how and why I became involved in this field of work. It goes back to my mum, her childhood and education, it goes back to my cousin Alison. It goes back to my brothers and it goes back to my two sons. I have gained so much from each pupil that I have worked with – I never forget them, they leave an indelible mark on my mind and heart and teach me how to have patience, wisdom, love, strength, endurance, flexibility and so much more. So, I have a reason and motive to help children and youth who are struggling and to support and help parents who are caught in the tangle. I know your struggle, and I know a way forwards that can help you and your child. Trust the journey you will go on. Just walk. It’s worth it.