Imagine being told after spending 5 years at the same school that they were not putting you through any exams as it would be a waste of paper?
This is my story of undiagnosed dyslexia and the impact this had on my education!
The excitement of finishing primary school and heading up to the big school was definitely filled with mixed emotions. I mean you were leaving the comfort of your first school that you had grown up in and were now the top of tree, some may say you were a big fish in a small pond and were leaving this all behind to start a new adventure, and one that will definitely shape you for the world of work.
So the the first day of school was looming and the preparation was in full swing, school uniform, pencil cases, new school bag, and some shiny new shoes. I was all set for the big day. I still remember that morning even down to what I had for breakfast, my mum gave me a big hug, licked her finger and wiped the chocolate spread off of my cheek (classic mum thing) and off I went. I was fortunate to go to school with the same bunch of friends that I had attended my primary school with, so we all met up on the corner and walked the 20 minutes to our new school. The journey basically consisted of us trying to stamp on each others new shoes and telling tales of what the school was going to be like.
We walked up to the new school and took a deep breath, it looked massive and felt at least 50 times bigger then our previous school. We all looked at each other, pushed our shoulders back as if to make us look taller, and walked in.
On entering the school we were immediately ushered into the assembly hall and told to sit and wait. The hall started filling up very fast and everyone was looking at each other and sussing each other out. The head teacher stood on the stage and proceeded to welcome us all to our new school. The assembly came to an end and another teacher stood up and had a great big list in her hand and proceeded to call out our names and what classrooms we were going into. I remember looking at my friends and hoping that all of us would stay together, and as the set of names were read out the students would all get up and leave with the allotted teacher. One by one all my friends names were called apart from mine, they all looked at me a bit confused as was I, it was as if it was a mistake or something. My friends then left and I looked around the hall in which 20 minutes ago was filled with hundreds of students, but was now just myself and 4 others all spread out across the room. Little did I know that this the start of my separation in school.
The teacher didn't call the last of the names, but instead asked us all the follow her, so I grabbed my bag and off I went. We walked past lots of classrooms that were filled with students and there was a real hustle and bustle about them, I also walked past the classroom where my friends were sat all in a line next to each other. I started to feel a real sense of resentment already and so confused. After walking for what felt like ages we eventually came to a small classroom and myself and the other 4 students sat down. Always being the one to ask questions I plucked up the courage to ask why I was in this classroom and not with my friends. I was then told about the tests that I did in my last school determined what classroom you would go into at this school, and my results meant that I would be here. I proceeded to say that there must be some mistake, but I ended up spending all day in that classroom with test after test being given to me, now this was back before I even knew I had dyslexia and even then I was struggling to read and write. I finally finished the school day and felt completely exhausted with a banging headache, I grabbed my school bag and headed home. The walk back with my friends was not as jovial as the walk in (well not for me anyway) my friends were all chatting about their day and how they moved around from class to class and describing each lesson. They then started to ask why I was put in a different class in which I replied they had made a mistake and that I would be back with them tomorrow (if only that was the case).
The next school day came and the teacher sat me down and gave me the results from all the tests I had done the day before, the results were not good and enforced what they had originally said. I was now destined to spend the rest of my school days in a different classroom. However, what I didn't expect was the type of classroom it was going to be.
This classroom was called the "Unit" and to be honest it was where I spent most, if not all of my school days. I'd be lying to if I said I wasn't allowed to go to any lessons and I was allowed to join mainstream PE, ART and DRAMA, however, the core sessions like English, Maths etc were excluded.
To this day I can still smell the damp and feel the cold from the unit and it has definitely left lasting memories. The days at school felt like something out of the film ground hog day where I would be doing the same thing everyday and that mostly consisted of colouring in. We were given substitute teachers which changed so many times, and I later learned that they were really just there to keep an eye on us, as kind of legal obligation as they never taught us anything and just sat at their desks doing administrative work. The other student numbers fluctuated, as some days there would be 5- 6 of us and other days just 1-2. There was no structure and as long as we turned up and kept quiet we were ok. The unit came to have a name and all the students that attended it were called troubled kids (their words not mine) you see we were not troubled kids, we just had lots of different learning issues going on, and the school didn't really want to spend the time investigating this.
Day after day for years I was given scrap paper and colouring books to keep me occupied, I was bullied in school because I was different, and because the school had highlighted this. So whenever I did attend lessons it made it incredibly hard to be accepted.
This went on for the 5 years I attend that school, however, I developed a very thick skin and became a bit of a dreamer at heart. The end of school was coming and to be honest I couldn't wait to see the back of it, however, I had to get through the exams first. Exam day would normally fill students with dread but I was brimming with excitement as it would be the first time that I was able to sit with my peers and be treated like a student. I remember almost running into school that day so I could see what exams I was being put forward for. I honestly didn't care if I would pass or couldn't read the sheets, I just wanted to be included.
I went up to the board where everyone's names were, and each name was assigned an exam and what time and classroom they would need to be at. I spent ages trying to find my name as the writing was all moving around due to my undiagnosed dyslexia. The students that were looking had all dispersed, and then suddenly a teacher came up and tapped me on the shoulder and said "your name won't be on there Clark as you won't be taking any exams, as to be honest it will be a waste of paper, now go to the unit."I felt a massive knot appear in my stomach and my eyes were welling up .
I walked back to unit whilst all the other students went to the halls to take their exams, when I got there I found another notice telling us that in fact anyone not sitting the exams would need to go to classroom B instead. Now, classroom B was situated right next to the hall and I remember there was a giant glass partition so the people in the hall could see the people in the classroom and vice versa. I walked in and sat down and and looked out to all the other students in the hall all taking their exams. As I looked down at my desk there was a giant fun packed dot to dot book placed there, and the substitute teacher then explained to myself and the 3 other students to go steady with the book as it had to last us all week. You see for the next 5 days I had to sit in that classroom with a dot to dot book while all the other students could see me not taking any exams. If ever I was done with school this was it, this was the final straw! I had endured 5 years of separation, bullying and not one teacher believing in me. However, something inside me kept wanting to comply and turn up everyday in the vain hope that things might change, sadly this never happened.
So you have probably guessed by now that I left school without a single qualification and although you would think that I have a real problem with the education system it couldn't be further from the truth. You see I'm a massive advocate for change and for more dyslexia awareness in our schools and workplaces. So over the past 10 years I have spoken to over 80,000 students across the world from schools, universities, colleges and youth projects and many more.
Part of my global mission is to spread awareness for Dyslexia so that no child ever has to endure what I went through.
Thank you for taking the time to read my blog and please feel free to share it with whoever it may help to spread more awareness of dyslexia.