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‘I was too dyslexic to do any of that’

Shaina Cavazos

Chalkbeat journalists ask the people we come across in our work to tell us about their education stories and how learning shaped who they are today. Learn more about this series, and read other installments, here.

Daniel Allen was a special education teacher at Emma Donnan Middle School. He got his start with Teach for America. Previously, he taught at Indianapolis Public School 103 and Indiana Math and Science Academy.

There was one point, I think it was first grade, where we had a reading competition. It was over Thanksgiving break — you had to read a certain number of pages, sign off on it, and turn it in. you got a feather for a turkey. You had to get five feathers, and if everyone got five feathers, the whole class got a party.

I was too dyslexic to do any of that, so I was the only one in the class who didn’t. I hated reading because I couldn’t do it really well. This was before my diagnosis, so people didn’t know what was wrong, they just assumed I didn’t want to do it or just apathetic or depressed — other things other than the disability. I just couldn’t do it in the time frame.

When you don’t read very well and when you’re young and every time you read the word “the” you say the word “a” and recognize it as the word “a” out loud and to be corrected every time, it just makes you not want to read.

So while I had a great relationship with my teachers, my relationship with education as a whole was pretty low. But with this one teacher, even though I didn’t make it, she just put me on a separate path so that I could still make it up over time, and none of the other students were aware of it.

So I joined Teach For America in order to give back to all those teachers that really helped me. I thought it was a nice way because my dad (a doctor) always helped people. I never really wanted to be a doctor, but I always admired that in my dad — he was always giving back by helping people. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

I’m going to try and pass all (my teachers’) knowledge on to these kids.

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