Kimberly Coy, Assistant Professor, Department of Literacy, Early, Bilingual and Special Education
Did I ever think I was going to be a Professor, well no. Some days I look around and wonder how did I get here? For me I think it was a series of inspirational people. A few years ago and in a short time period I met a Police Chief, a Politician, and a Caterer, all dedicated and inspired leaders. Since I loved education, getting my PhD in education and becoming an educational leader seemed like a good move.
There were a few obstacles along the way.
One obstacle I used to perceive, as a weakness is my dyslexia. Although I have had a dyslexic brain since I was born, I am old enough that I did not know until I was in graduate school getting my teaching degree what dyslexia was. It was a comfort understanding that it was not that I wasn’t trying hard enough to spell, or read new material, but that my brain was just wired a bit differently. And as my daughter grew up dyslexic I was able to witness as a parent how special her brain was, and that being dyslexic could be a gift in how creative and interesting the world could be. What I did not realize until recently was how pervasive my self-doubt was due in part to being dyslexic. At a faculty meeting I recently mentioned I was dyslexic, no doubt because I had reversed something on a PowerPoint slide, or written down a phone number incorrectly. One of my colleagues rolled his eyes and said, “Oh I know, you say that all the time.” What I felt when he said that was shame. Later I got angry. I realized that my own self-perception had been shaped very much by what I could not do in my primary and secondary school years. I overcame a lot of difficulty because much of the education world told me I could not do it. I had to persevere in doubt anyway. And I am proud of that. I am dyslexic, and I plan on continuing to tell people.
Another obstacle is my anxiety disorder. Frustratingly I am most impacted during two tasks. One is giving speeches, most especially in front of peers, and the other is writing for peers. Since this is my profession I have needed to find ways to work with myself so I do not give up. One of the most effective tools I learned through the discipline of neuroscience. When the brain is nervous, like I am before and at the beginning of a speech, or at this very moment writing a piece for a journal, I become hot and uncomfortable. I can have trouble concentrating and organizing my thoughts, and I imagine I am loosing control of my physical body. Often I have trouble forming sentences, seeing clearly, and I always feel inadequate.
Neuroscience informs me that the same physical reactions also happen in my body when I am feeling excited. For example, when I get off the lift as I begin snow skiing down a trail, or getting on a horse I do not know. I love doing these things, and I get so excited! The trick is to trick my own brain and body. I say out loud, “I am excited” both when I am doing something fun, and when I am doing something anxiety producing. This helps, and the importance of neuroscience in UDL reassures me. Teaching, talking in front of large groups of smart people, and writing does excite me.
These are reasons I am obsessed with Universal Design for Learning. I want the students I teach here at Fresno State to embrace their obstacles and succeed, and UDL provides a framework for me to achieve this goal.
Universities, colleges, and other post-secondary institutions are acknowledging and embracing the increasing diversity within student bodies. Using the Universal Design for Learning lens to design and construct rigorous learning environments can increase the success of all students by providing every student a deeper connection to content and learning. As educators we can believe that every student voice is important, and the end has not been reached until every student has met the learning goal. This is not easy; it is worthwhile.
CFE has helped my teaching and student success by providing both a platform for me to explore inclusion in the University classroom, and tools to help me implement high expectations for my students at Fresno State.