The impact of teachers’ attitudes towards dyslexia on pupils’ self-esteem

By Kamil Trzebiatowski (2011)

for the University of the West of Scotland

In the world where literacy is frequently a pre-requisite to the acquisition of knowledge, information and employment, being a dyslexic may result in feelings of anxiety, frustration and low self-confidence. This statement will examine how teachers’ perceptions of dyslexia can influence pupils’ self-esteem.

Morgan (1997) argues that self-esteem in children is lowered when they become unable to maintain the pace required by the school and, in turn, lose faith in their academic abilities. This is supported by Alexander-Passe (2008) who claims that academic self-concepts in dyslexic children are considerably lower than in their non-dyslexic peers. Coping strategies include speaking to classmates, being a ‘class clown’, apparent inattentiveness, disorganization and tiredness (Thomson, 2008). Learned helplessness, where children have ceased to try due to experience of repeated failure, is another way of avoiding tasks, as found by Humphrey and Mullins (2002, cited in Burden, 2008).

Teachers, as pupils’ significant others (Burden 2008), may have a considerable impact on dyslexic pupils’ self-esteem. If teachers treat their pupils unfairly, the influence is likely to be negative (Humphrey and Mullins, 2002). In certain cases, this might be the result of some teachers’ lack of belief that dyslexia exists (Riddick, 1996 cited in Glazzard, 2008). Some teachers are also known to criticize their pupils as this is a quick way to address their behaviour (Molnar and Lindquist, 1989, in Alexander-Passe, 2006).

Humphrey and Mullins (2002) suggest that the role of a teacher at school needs to be altered so as to provide more welcoming and relaxing atmosphere to dyslexic students. They also insist that early identification of dyslexia is essential for pupils to be supported more effectively in mainstream schools. Humphrey and Mullins claim that dyslexic pupils perceive success as dependent more on teachers’ quality than their own intelligence. As a result, teachers appear to be ideally positioned to attempt to increase pupils’ self-esteem.  In addition, some of the pupils in Glazzard’s (2010) research insist that other (non-dyslexic) pupils would benefit from awareness of the condition: this places the responsibility for spreading such awareness on the teachers.

Long et al (2007, cited in Gibson and Kendall, 2010) insist that teachers ought to address not only dyslexic students’ academic needs, but also attend to their personality. Whilst it might be difficult to find a teacher who would openly disagree with such claim, I have observed different practices in my professional school experience. A number of teachers, originally trained a number of years ago when dyslexia was not highlighted, are still resistant to the existence of dyslexia and consider dyslexic pupils to be “simply lazy”. Conversely, a great number of more recently trained teachers wish to help, but lack the knowledge about how to support dyslexic children, how to distinguish between general reading difficulties and dyslexia and how to identify dyslexia in the first place.

To conclude, I believe that some teachers’ actions towards dyslexic learners deepen pupils’ low self-esteem and frustration, due to their unwillingness or inability to support them. This issue needs to be addressed through provision of extensive training and raising teachers’ awareness of how to be dyslexia-friendly practitioners in teachers’ respective subjects. Teachers’ full confidence in their ability to teach dyslexic learners will result in their willingness to alter their roles and will ensure in dyslexic pupils’ feeling valued as learners and individuals.



Alexander-Passe, N. (2006) How Dyslexic Teenagers Cope: An Investigation of Self-esteem, Coping and Depression. Dyslexia. Vol.12, p.256-275

Burden, R. (2008) Is Dyslexia Necessarily Associated with Negative Feelings of Self-worth? A Review and Implications for Future Research. Dyslexia. Vol.14, p.188-196

Gibson, S. and Kendall, L. (2010) Stories from school: dyslexia and learners’ voices on factors impacting on achievement. Support for Learning. Vol.25(4), p.187-193

Glazzard, J. (2010) The impact of dyslexia on pupils’ self-esteem. Support for Learning. Vol.25(2), p.63-69

Humphrey, N. and Mullins, P. (2002) Personal constructs and attribution for academic success and failure in dyslexia. British Journal of Special Education. Vol.29(4), p.196-203

Macdonald, S. (2009) Towards a social reality of dyslexia. British Journal of Learning Disabilities. Vol.38, p.271-279

Morgan, W. (1997) Dyslexia and Crime. Dyslexia. Vol.3, p.247-248

Thomson, M. (2008) Supporting Students with Dyslexia in Secondary Schools. London and New York: Routledge

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