“A teacher educated about dyslexia can be the one person who saves a child
and his or her family from years of frustration and anxiety. That teacher can play
a pivotal role in changing the whole culture of a school.
~ Dr. Kelli Sandman-Hurley
This month we continue our recurring series, “The Power of One,” about individuals who have been the one educator to spark change in their sphere of inﬂuence. For November we look at Professor Faith Earnest, who teaches in the education department in a small Midwestern college where every education major now receives multiple, meaningful exposures to what dyslexia is, how it presents in the classroom, and best instructional practices for students with dyslexia. Click to read how Professor Earnest was instrumental in creating a program to help pre-service teachers be up to speed on dyslexia the ﬁrst day they set foot in their own classroom.
Faith Earnest is a professor in the Education Department at Faith Baptist Bible College, a small private college nestled among beautiful Midwestern subdivisions in rapidly expanding Ankeny, Iowa. Faith Baptist Bible College, FBBC to insiders, recently celebrated its centennial anniversary. Although a historic college for pastors, missions workers, and church musicians, FBBC has long been a dynamic institution, reﬂectively changing to accommodate the shifting needs of its student body. One of those changes was the addition of a college of education to train teachers. Starting as an elementary education program in the 1970s, and then expanding into secondary majors, FBBC has turned out exceptionally prepared classroom teachers for decades.
Professor Earnest is sure she heard dyslexia mentioned in passing during her studies as a pre-service teacher, but the research on dyslexia was still developing, and the mention was brief. The impression she had was that dyslexia was primarily a reading diﬃculty caused by letter reversals. Several years into her teaching career, Professor Earnest started teaching with a colleague whose son had dyslexia. That colleague helped to open Professor Earnest’s eyes to the weaknesses and strengths of an individual with dyslexia. She saw that her colleague’s son struggled with reading tasks, but excelled in tasks involving visual/spatial relationships.
As Professor Earnest continued to learn more about dyslexia, former students who struggled kept popping up in her mind. She would ask herself, “I wonder what strategy would have helped this student?” After attending Dyslexia Friendly Classroom training with Cindy, Professor Earnest’s overwhelming thought was, “I wish I would have known this sooner!” That inner regret drove her to develop speciﬁc opportunities for the FBBC pre-service teachers to learn about dyslexia and to become familiar with strategies to help dyslexic students.
During her time as a classroom teacher, Professor Earnest felt the weight of responsibility for helping each of the children in her classroom. Now as a professor in the Teacher Education Department of FBBC, she wanted each of her college students to be prepared for the wide range of students who will sit at desks in their future classrooms. She wanted to equip them with knowledge, tools, and strategies to reach each one, including those with dyslexia. She brought to the attention of her department head, Dr. Mark Stupka, the great impact small changes in teaching methods combined with a deeper knowledge of dyslexia could have in their pre-service teachers’ future classrooms, and he agreed.
Exceptional Learners already existed as part of the coursework for all FBBC education majors. Professor Earnest started her changes by moving from a cursory mention of dyslexia during one lecture to dedicating a week of the course to speciﬁc teaching about dyslexia, with Cindy Hall guest lecturing for three class periods. One of the Exceptional Learners course required readings is a YA novel, Fish in A Tree, which chronicles the pivotal sixth-grade year of a student discovering she has dyslexia, and the teacher who guides her in the self-discovery and remediation. The powerful combination of targeted instruction about dyslexia coupled with following a ﬁctional student’s transformative year because of her classroom teacher’s decisive intervention will lodge dyslexia in the pre-service teacher’s minds when they step into their own classrooms.
Going one step further, Professor Earnest and fellow FBBC professor Melissa Whitcher teamed up to incorporate as many strategies known to be helpful for dyslexic learners but good for all learners into their daily teaching of all education courses. For example, in the Science Education course, the pre-service teachers work with parts of the heart chart by making small ﬂags to identify the various cardiac elements, and placing those ﬂags in balls of clay on the chart to facilitate memorization of the vocabulary associated with each. The activity is made self-checking so the pre-service teachers know which heart locations they still need to work on, and which they can set aside as already learned. By using techniques such as this as part of the instructional strategies for coursework pre-service teachers take, there is a powerful and ongoing awareness of eﬀective, kinesthetic learning tools - because the education majors experience ﬁrst hand how well they learn with these strategies. Professor Earnest reports that she knew the battle was won when she was doing observations of teaching internships and noticed her students employing new and diﬀerent kinesthetic methods as part of their lesson presentations to the class.
Not satisﬁed with merely informing pre-service teachers about dyslexia and ways dyslexic learners can be better served in the classroom, Professor Earnest once again found herself pitching an idea to Education Department chairman Dr. Stupka. This time she was asking about the college hosting a Dyslexia Friendly Classroom Summit professional development for area teachers. Ten teachers spent the better part of a week becoming better equipped to impact their students. In large part due to very positive reviews from teachers who attended the 2022 Summit, another Dyslexia Friendly Classroom Summit is already scheduled at FBBC for June 2023.
In this story of Professor Earnest, we see the power of one young professor with ﬁre to ensure her pre-service teachers didn’t have to look back with regret over their uninformed teaching of students with dyslexia. She has spearheaded an emphasis in the FBBC college of education which is now providing speciﬁc training to its pre-service teachers about dyslexia along with other learning diﬀerences and then stretching further by becoming a hub for area teachers and schools to come for quality professional development about how to best help dyslexic learners in their classrooms. Professor Earnest has wisely worked with the others in her department by looping them into her vision and working to make it a vision shared by the entire Education Department team.
Many thanks to Professor Faith Earnest for sharing her story illustrating the Power of One. It is inspiring to read of the diﬀerence she has made. One can imagine the spread of her work as these pre-service teachers embark on a career of teaching students armed with the knowledge about how to best reach the ones who struggle in the classroom due to dyslexia.
Email Cindy if you would like to share your story of how you have changed the culture of your corner of the world to be better for dyslexic learners and their families. We care about what you are doing!