By Brandi Willis Schreiber
At our Spring 2017 tutor training, Academic Counselor, Christian Enevoldsen, and Master Tutor, Lindyn Davis, presented a new training topic about bias and how that can affect tutors’ perceptions of working with students.
I was fascinated by the topic because it was so thought provoking and timely, but something happened during the training that really touched me. One of our longtime tutors, Leah Harper, who was in the audience, shared her experiences as someone with dyslexia and how others had unfairly perceived or reacted to her.
One perception that people might have about our tutors is that they are unlike our students: they have never struggled academically, or never needed help, or don’t have some of the same learning disabilities and ADHD that our students do.
That is absolutely not true.
In fact, many of our tutors have struggled academically, requested help along the way, and have some of the same diagnoses as our students. After all, they are real human beings and fellow peers. But they have learned how to ask help and developed coping strategies that have helped them succeed, which is why they are excellent, qualified tutors. And some of them reveal this vulnerability and this honesty, which makes them great people to learn from.
After Leah shared the intimate details of her experience with dyslexia, I asked her if she’d be willing to share some of what she’s learned with our readers.
Below follows some the personal, wise insight from Leah about her experiences and the great advice she has about working with a learning difference. Our hope is that she inspires students with her own experiences. We are very thankful to her for being so generous to share her insight with others!
Brandi Willis Schreiber: Leah, tell us who you are and how dyslexia has affected your academic experiences.
Leah Harper: “I am an undergraduate student majoring in Chemical Engineering. Through most of high school, I hated math and science. It wasn’t until my senior year when I took AP statistics and AP chemistry that I discovered that I enjoyed solving challenging analytical problems. After I graduate in May, I plan to pursue a graduate degree in Electrical Engineering.
I was diagnosed with dyslexia as a young child. My older sister had already been diagnosed, so my parents knew what to look for. I struggled with my dyslexia throughout elementary and middle school, and it wasn’t until high school that I really started to develop coping strategies to keep up with the rest of the class. By the time I made it to college, I was feeling confident my academic performance.”
Brandi: You also shared a story about how you used to casually mention your dyslexia as sort of an lighthearted “excuse” for some things. In other words, you joked about it until it had a real impact on the way another student treated you. Do you mind retelling that story for our readers? What happened?
Leah: “I was working on a lab report with three other students in my group. I was typing up a section of the report as one of my group members read off some text to be added in. I am not a very good at typing (more like hunting and pecking), so I kept making small mistakes that were slowing us down. Off-handedly, I mentioned that I was dyslexic to defuse the situation. Suddenly my group member changed her tone towards me. She began feeding me words one. at. a. time. This made me irrationally angry because I imagined my students being put in a similar situation, and how belittled they would feel. The whole situation made me question why I continue to use my dyslexia as a crutch, even when it does not affect my ability to complete certain tasks.”
Brandi: What has being a tutor at the TECHniques Center who also has one of the same diagnoses that our students have taught you? Has it changed the way you tutor? The way you interact with our students? If so, how?
Leah: “I do feel that having dyslexia and being a tutor has made me more empathetic to those who really struggle with learning disabilities. I have learned that sometimes our students need to spend a little more time studying things than most students, and that is okay. Since I started tutoring at the TECHniques Center, I have become much more patient.”
Brandi: At the TECHniques Center, we train our tutors on different diagnoses, but that is only knowledge. As with all life experiences, it’s impossible to perfectly understand someone else’s experiences or walk in their shoes. What advice would you give to another TECHniques Center tutor who is working with a student who also has a reading disorder or dyslexia?
Leah: “Individuals with dyslexia tend to learn as well as think differently than the average person. Don’t pressure your student to learn things the “correct” way if it is not working for them. More than likely there is another way you can present information that will click with your student.”
Brandi: You have also shared that as a student, you are extremely successful. What coping strategies or techniques have you learned that you’d encourage other students with dyslexia to develop or explore?
Leah: “Reading several chapters at a time can be a chore, especially if you’re reading from an eTextbook because it can lead to eye strain. If you have difficulty reading serif font, you can copy and paste text from your book into a word document and change the font to something more friendly, like Verdana. There is also a free software, called f.lux, which automatically applies a soft tint to your computer screen at sundown which could reduce eye strain during late night study sessions.”
Brandi: Please fill in the blank. “The one thing I wish people at Tech knew about about dyslexia is _____________.”
Leah: “The one thing I wish people at Tech knew about dyslexia is that students with dyslexia are just as intelligent and capable of success as any other student.”
Brandi: A lot of our readers may not realize that our tutors may also have some of the same diagnoses and educational experiences as our students, such as ADHD, dyslexia, and/or other learning disabilities. What would you like community members and supporters of the TECHniques Center to know about our academically successful and diverse tutor community?
Leah: “Every tutor at the TECHniques Center is there for a reason, and every tutor has something unique to offer to the program. I am proud to work alongside the tutors at the TC.”
Brandi: Has working at the TECHniques Center changed you as a student or young professional? If so, in what way?
Leah: “Working here has been a blessing. It has forced me to come out of my shell and be more assertive. I feel that I have already gained a lot of experience communicating in a professional setting.”
Brandi: What advice would you like to share with our readers?
Leah: “Anything can be accomplished with hard work! Don’t accept limits that other people impose upon you if you know that you can achieve more.”