The Letters’ Foxtrot

The Letters' Foxtrot

Sitting GCSEs early and getting young people to re-sit until they obtain a C grade, may be suitable for some but it’s certainly not everyone’s cup of tea.  The essential question is what are their needs and are they ready for it?

The key factor here is how are young people put forward for the exams? How are they assessed to ensure they are ready? What provision has been made to support them through the process? Is this going to affect their confidence levels if they fail? And what provision is being made for young people with language or learning difficulties and those for whom English is not their native language?

I have dyslexia that was not diagnosed at school. I was mocked by pupils and teachers (I know… ) alike for being a slow reader who would get stuck on the first letter of a word unable to pronounce the next.

At the age of 15 I moved to an American High School from the Middle East with my English vocabulary being limited to “my name is” and “Hello”. I was accepted by the school on the basis that my first year would focus on learning the language, then repeating year one again to focus on the subjects. I was however so determined not to lose a year that I focused on learning the language and on learning and understanding the subjects I was studying – Dictionary at hand.

By the end of my “Freshman” year all my teachers agreed that as far as physics, chemistry, maths, history, geography, Italian and art history were concerned I understood the subjects and passed them with good grades, so despite my basic English there was no reason for me to repeat the year. I also achieved a pass in English but my teacher insisted I had to repeat the year because I was not at par with everyone else. In retrospective I guess this teacher noticed something but decided not to do anything about it other than force me to repeat the year. Luckily my mother put up a fight, after all a pass in English is a pass and not a fail and so I went on to the second year or “Sophomore” as they call it. I can’t hide however that it was hard. Trying to read words in a language I never heard before, translate them into Italian and make sense of sentences; all this while the letters did the Foxtrot on the page at an increasing pace fuelled by my frustration. I did not know why the letters moved and did not feel it was appropriate to mention it to anyone – maybe I was simply mad, seeing things, would they lock me up if I said anything?

It was not until my mid 20’s that I read an article on dyslexia and then the light bulb lit up! Knowing the problem is half the battle. I was able to work on tools to mitigate and manage my condition, by simply knowing the issue and its symptoms: Public speaking and presenting courses, learning how to breathe, annunciation, learning to focus my mind, worked for me.

At times if I’m tired or under pressure, letters may still jump off the page but I now have a coping mechanism and a bunch of tools I can use the get the letters back in line as if nothing happened. But every journey is different so much so none can be replicated, and we all have different ways of coping and will develop different mechanisms to help us through those hard situations.

Yet it is important, no matter what the background of a young person, that we provide suitable support systems to help them identify and deal with any potential issues early on and give them the courage to talk about them and not think “I’m a lunatic”. It’s not about labelling people but about becoming aware of one’s reality and circumstances and learning to manage them.

It’s all in the process.


Leonardo Greco

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