Phil Perkins teaches business studies at Ark Burlington Danes Academy in west London. He’s a graduate of Bournemouth University and the Ark Teacher Training programme. He’s also dyslexic. Undiagnosed for many years, he struggled not only in his studies, but even just to stay in school. For National Dyslexia Week, he shared with us some thoughts on his struggles and how he works to help his students avoid mistakes he made himself.
My parents are very proud of me, but they’re really quite surprised because school was such a challenging experience for me and for them. My mum tells me she really can’t believe I’m a teacher now. My parents used to get called into the school quite frequently because I was often in trouble. I was even excluded at one point.
I struggled with the academic side of things due to my dyslexia. Handwriting was particularly difficult. Several teachers thought I was lazy, but things just took me longer. I couldn’t spell or even read my own writing. I didn’t do well on my GCSEs- my grades were all Cs.
I wish it had been recognised earlier
Eventually my mum and dad took me to an outside education psychologist, and they diagnosed me, and that helped me access special arrangements at school. For example, writing by hand wasn’t getting me anywhere, so I learned to type everything out on a laptop. Soon I became more motivated, and I started to do better. Quite unexpectedly, I was offered a place at Bournemouth University.
After I graduated, I found a job as a Learning Support Assistant here at Ark Burlington Danes Academy, and then I applied to, and was accepted by the Ark Teacher Training Programme. I graduated last year, and now I’m an NQT (Newly-Qualified Teacher).
The SEN (Special Educational Needs) support at Ark schools in general and here at Burlington Danes in particular is brilliant. We’ve come a long way in recognising kids with dyslexia and helping them. Since I wish I had been diagnosed earlier, I think I’m more motivated to help the students I work with who are struggling.
Learning with Ark Teacher Training
If someone were to ask me about how I coped with the Ark Teacher Training (ATT) programme as a dyslexic, I would say – you’re in for a difficult year, and it’s really challenging, but there is help available. You need to accept that there are aspects that you’ll need to work really hard on, but it definitely can be done. And it’s worth it.
I had support the entire time, not just from my mentor but from the entire Ark Teacher Training team. Ark works with dyslexia experts from the Drive for Literacy programme and they also really helped me every step of the way.
Early on, in ATT, I struggled with keeping organised. That was the most difficult part of my training as keeping organised is the part of my dyslexia that I’ve always struggled with. I had difficulty organising schedules, dates, times tables. The training is there in ATT- not just for you as a trainee, but also for recognising and helping SEN students.
My tips for students with dyslexia:
- Seek help and don’t be embarrassed asking for help.
- Address your weaknesses and don’t shy away from them. I spent a lot of time hiding my struggles through bad behaviour.
- Persevere! Don’t throw in the towel. Things will get better when you work at it and there are techniques that you can learn that will help you.
- Take your time. When you have dyslexia it’s easy to get flustered when you’re being rushed.
- Lastly, I tell my students to see dyslexia as nothing more than an obstacle to go around. I tell them to take inspiration from all the really successful people who have dyslexia, like Richard Branson, who is particularly relevant to a business studies class.
The reason I wanted to get into education is that I really enjoy working with young people, I’m really comfortable with kids that others find challenging. I can relate to some of their difficulties. Maybe I’m more understanding. I try to make my lessons very SEN- friendly.
I don’t know where I’d be if I wasn’t a teacher. I’m really glad I did it.
I plan to talk to my students about National Dyslexia week. They already know many of the techniques. We use word banks, we prepare notes, we encourage working on computers, we do reading buddy schemes – all of which can make a difference. I tell them to never give up, that they can work it out eventually with these, and their own strategies. They may not even be aware of how much they’re progressing, but then one day they find things getting easier.
I don’t know if any of them are inspired or motivated by what I went through, but it would be nice if even one or two of my students said to themselves, “If he can do it, then maybe I can do it too.”