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A Dyslexic self
by Nicholas J. Shea
Every year on the first day of school I announce to my classes that I have the learning
disability Dyslexia. After some self-depreciating jokes about the irony of an English
teacher not being able to spell or fumbling over big words, the announcement is usually
forgotten until the inevitable incident where I show off my skills to the amazement of a
few who had tuned me out on that first day. Though I have learned to accept, and even
laugh off, my everyday struggles with Dyslexia, I can’t say that I have always found
humor in my disability. And, while I am confident now in my calling as an educator, I was
not always firm in this belief.
Early on in my teaching career I was told by a professor that to be an English teacher
meant you had to be the purveyor of the English language. Which meant you were to be
a subtle variation of the stereotypical English teacher, who interrupts you to correct your
grammar and is the expert on all things surrounding the English language. Gazing
around the room during her lecture I could see eyes intently watching, absorbing her
words and envisioned them all forming tiny mental pictures of themselves correcting
speech and circling every misspelled word on essays. However, that was not the picture
that I envisioned for myself and like so manny times in my life, I left that classroom
internally defeated, recalling my own history of setbacks and questioning my validity as
an educator.
Though the thought that someone with the learning disability Dyslexia would want to be
an English teacher may seem masochistic, I haven't always been the easiest on myself
when it came to deciding what I wanted to do with my life. Early on I remember wanting
to be a writer, only to receive several essays throughout my academic career with a
large red “see me” at the top and followed by an impromptu break time lesson about
spelling and mechanics. Later on I thought about being an architect but after a long year
of trying and failing Geometry, it was suggested that some people just aren’t “math
With my only motivation for college being sports I was lucky enough to attend on a
running scholarship. By than I had accepted my Dyslexia and I knew that studying in
any traditional sense of the word would never work for me. It was in those first few
months of my freshman year that I realized what my real academic skill was, listening. I
found how to adapt and in my English classes, I became so taken in by my professors
enthusiasm, I began to sit down and read for hours on end - despite only getting a few
pages per hour. Though I struggled to juggle my commitments in and out of the
classroom, I had learned to teach myself how to be successful in both arenas, because I
wanted to experience the excitement and energy these stories gave my teacher as well
as the other students.
As a Dyslexic teacher I don’t think of myself as a purveyor of the English language.
Though, despite my early efforts to be such a teacher with extra credit points for each
time I misspelled a word - which inevitably ended in a few 200%’s in my class - or trying
to play the role of intellectual giant who is not to be questioned, I have accepted not only
who I am but proudly pronounce my learning disability to my classes frequently and
often. That is what has made my time teaching most enjoyable, sharing my own
enthusiasm, engaging in honest exploration of my subject and most of all, being honest
about my limitations and adapting to not only my own limitations but learning those of
the people around me.
Nicholas Shea has been a teacher and running coach for the past five years throughout the
east bay. While he practices in various platforms, Nick primarily enjoys writing creative
nonfiction. Nick is a native of California’s central coast, a graduate of Saint Mary’s College of
California and Holy Names University with a Master’s Degree in English.