EARLY — As a child, Paula Pate had many of the classic signs of a teacher-in-the-making: many of her family members were teachers, and Pate lined up her dolls and taught them lessons.
But after graduating from Mineral Wells High School, Pate enrolled in Tarleton State University — not as an education major but as a computer information systems major.
“I graduated from college with a computer programming degree but realized my love and compassion was in teaching,” Pate said in her classroom at Early Elementary School, where she is a dyslexia specialist.
Pate became certified as a teacher through the alternative certification program and has been in education for 10 years — the entire time as a dyslexia specialist at Early Elementary after receiving specialized training in dyslexia.
Another teacher works part-time as a dyslexia specialist at the school.
www.dyslexiareadingconnection.com defines dyslexia as:
“In simple terms, dyslexia is a learning disability that makes it difficult to read, write, and spell in spite of normal intelligence and adequate instruction. It is caused by the brain's inability to process information received from the eyes or ears into understandable language. It does not mean that these students are lazy, or not trying hard, or not intelligent. It just means that they need to be taught in a different way.”
Pate traces her interest in dyslexia to her mother, who was a reading specialist before retiring.
“Of course I loved reading,” Pate said. “To me it’s intriguing, and to teach students how to read, especially students who struggle with dyslexia … it’s not something that there’s a cure for but it’s something that you can overcome.”
Pate said dyslexic students basically “struggle in print. They’re usually more successful in the absence of print. So reading and spelling tend to be very hard and very difficult for them. They have difficulty with reading and spelling.”
Pate, the mother of a 7-year-old daughter, Jordyn, who already shares her mother’s love for reading, was named the school’s teacher of the year in 2014.
In her classroom, Pate sees a total of 28 students, and each student spends a total of 45 minutes each day with her.Pate has no trouble explaining what inspires her: “the reward of teaching, and teaching a child to learn to read — there’s no bigger reward than that — to see when they become successful and they fell proud of themselves,” Pate said.
“There’s no cure for dyslexia but they can overcome it, so when they come to me I’m basically teaching them phonics in a scientific way of learning. Once they receive those skills, they can use it in a regular classroom. They can use it outside the classroom to where they become more successful. No, it doesn’t completely go away but they can overcome it.”
In the first week of class, students learn “what dyslexia is, how it affects you … they need to understand what’s going on with their brains,” Pate said. “We talk about famous people that are dyslexic.” As examples of famous dyslexic people, Pate cited Jay Leno, Walt Disney, Henry Winkler, Steve Jobs, Thomas Edison and Babe Ruth.
Pate said she sees her students gain confidence throughout the school year. “That’s the biggest joy — watching that light bulb turn on and watching them feel successful and understanding reading and spelling and how it works,” Pate said.
“I treat them each like they’re my own children. I love what I do.”