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“I Couldn’t Walk Out on These Kids”: Longtime Wilson Reading System® Teacher Wins Awards

Wilson® Dyslexia Practitioner (W.D.P.) Chris Lee has a lot to be proud of in her 44-year career with Regional School Unit 29 in Houlton, ME.

In the 2022–2023 school year, the caring and devoted teacher was named both the Maine Special Education Teacher of the Year and Aroostook County Special Education Teacher of the Year. Those two titles are impressive, but they represent something even more significant—the young lives she has impacted.

Chris Lee and Zack hug and smile while looking at a WRS completion certificate.

Finding Wilson Language Training® and Finding Her Way

Chris began her career as an educational technician (or paraeducator), remaining in this role for 13 years. During that time, Chris earned her teaching degree and became a Title I tutor. When her district opened a new school, she was hired conditionally to teach special education for emotionally and behaviorally challenged students. While Chris taught, she took courses to fulfill certification requirements. As she worked toward this goal, she was offered the opportunity to take the Wilson Reading System® (WRS) Introductory Course presented by Barbara Wilson.

“From the very first training, I knew this was what I had to do,” Chris recounted. “It was like a lightbulb went on. This was what I needed! This was what these kids needed!”

She began working toward her WRS Level I Certification when a Wilson® Credentialed Trainer (W.C.T.) came to nearby Presque Isle. She was pleased by her observer’s affirmations that she was teaching the program the way it was intended to be taught.

As the only WRS teacher in her district, Chris introduced WRS Steps 1–6 to struggling readers in grades 4–6. She couldn’t continue instruction into higher grades until her district moved the sixth grade to the combined middle/high school years later. She joined her sixth-grade resource room students at the secondary school, but for two or three years, the new school’s schedules and time requirements did not leave room for Chris to use WRS with her students.

A Special Case

The need for WRS became apparent again when her principal called to discuss Zack, a seventh grader who was added to Chris’s caseload. Zack’s father, Ken, told administrators he didn’t feel his son was getting the intervention he needed. While Zack was mathematically gifted, he could neither read nor write. He wouldn’t even attempt to write because he was afraid of getting it wrong.

Zack’s mother would soon pass away from cancer. Ken, a fellow educator and father to five, knew he needed to keep his son’s future in mind despite the difficulty the family was facing. If he couldn’t read, Zack would have limited choices for his future and wouldn’t be able to go to college.

Upon learning about her new student, Chris reviewed her WRS training to brush up on her skills. When she began working with Zack, she started lessons at Step 1.3 and worked with him daily for one class period (45 to 50 minutes). When he progressed into eighth grade, she could only work with him every other day during study hall.

Chris knew that this was not enough time to deliver the recommended two full WRS lessons per week. One full lesson is 60–90 minutes long, allowing 30 minutes for each of the three Blocks.

Chris Lee, Zack, and Kenneth pose for the camera. Zack is holding his WRS completion certificate.

An evaluator came to the school to observe Zack and confirmed that he needed more instruction time. The school administration did what was necessary to make it happen.

“He continued to progress, but his progress slowed down a little when he didn’t get daily instruction,” Chris said. “Once I got him back to lessons every day, he flew through the curriculum.”

By tenth grade, Zack was taking general education English classes. Ken was thrilled with his son’s improvement. Chris remembered, “He has been so supportive and told anybody he could find about Wilson.”

Chris was pleased as well. Zack was the first student she guided through all 12 Steps of WRS and her first student to graduate from the program. To celebrate the achievement, Chris threw a graduation party for Zack.

“Through this process, Zack’s had some pretty tough times. We’ve developed a close bond. He still stops in to visit me even though he doesn’t do Wilson anymore. His dad always said that when Zack finished Wilson, he would write a letter for me.”

Last year, Ken made good on his word.

In the recommendation letter he wrote for Chris’s nomination as Aroostook County Special Education Teacher of the Year, he wrote, “I had many teachers through my own high school, undergrad, and grad years. None of these teachers had such a profound effect on my life as Chris Lee.”

Zack and his family mean as much to Chris as she does to them.

She said, “He and his dad rekindled the passion I had for Wilson, and it has basically become my life.”

Still Looking Forward

After 44 successful years in one career, some people may begin to plan to retire and head off on new adventures. This isn’t what Chris has in mind.

“I need to be younger because there’s too much left to do,” she said with a laugh. “There are too many kids who need Wilson.”

Chris is currently the only W.D.P. in her small, rural school, and she isn’t willing to leave them without a WRS teacher. She’s happy to continue the work that gives her a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. She’s also glad that a fellow educator is currently working toward their WRS Level I Certification.

“Every day, my sixth-grade student says, ‘If you leave, Mrs. Lee, who’s going to teach me to read?’” she explained. “How do you walk out? I’m 72 years old, and I couldn’t walk out on these kids.”

View Chris’s televised interview.