The average secondary school teacher is unprepared to handle the increasing demands of students with learning difficulties in mainstream educational settings and unequipped to handle the academic and emotional characteristics of dyslexia.
That’s the stark finding from the first study of the knowledge and attitudes of New Zealand secondary schools teachers towards dyslexic learners. The study, the basis of a dissertation by Rebecca Elias towards completion of her Master’s degree at Auckland University in 2014, provides a fascinating insight into the secondary school system. Seven years after the Government officially recognised dyslexia; it is clear there is much work still to be done.
Rebecca, a registered teacher who has completed post-graduate level linguistics and theory relating to dyslexia and associated learning difficulties, concludes that there is strong evidence of positive attitudes towards of the vast majority of participating teachers. However the reality is that the average teacher is simply unequipped to deal with dyslexic students. Although most seem positive towards the construct of dyslexia, there is still uncertainty as to what dyslexia actually is, how it manifests in children and how to address it in teaching. She says teachers appear to feel under-qualified and too overworked to integrate effective learning strategies for dyslexic students in the classroom. This is compounded by a deficit in: specific education concerning dyslexia in teaching training; knowledge of the classroom adjustments needed for children with learning difficulties; and the large size of classroom which impacts teachers’ capacity to assist learners with dyslexia. What was most evident in the findings was the need recognised by the majority of teachers for further professional development. Rebecca’s research is featured on the Dyslexia Foundation New Zealand website for dyslexia awareness week.
The study surveyed 144 secondary school teachers,with between 6-19 years experience, from all regions of New Zealand, though 74% currently taught in Auckland. For more information, you can download the dissertation here.
Rebecca Elias made the shift from classroom teacher to a career in specialised education after her own son faced difficulties in mainstream education, due to a range of learning challenges.
Following completion of her degree, gaining honours, Rebecca is now focused on developing a new academy to support students with dyslexia. Based in Auckland, The Summit Academy are working towards a first school of its kind in New Zealand, Summit Point School. Rebecca, along with a passionate and experienced board of directors are working on the development of a new generation learning environment for children with dyslexia and associated learning difficulties. The project has now been approved by the New Zealand Charities Commission which is the first step in raising funds to develop the full curriculum five day school, in order to offer scholarships for children to attend.