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Inspired by Empathy

Despite her own learning challenges in reading and math as a child, Evan Lefton knew at an early age she wanted to become a teacher after being inspired by a patient middle school teacher who recognized and encouraged her talent in writing.

“As a child with a learning difference, I grew up in a time where there was one method, three oral reading groups (mine being the lowest), and many teachers who did not understand or have the patience for a ‘slow reader,’ she shared. “This was excruciatingly painful and embarrassing as a young girl, but it also lit my fire. I knew at an early age that I wanted to become a teacher, and I made a promise that I would NEVER let another child feel the humiliation that I experienced.” 

Evan fulfilled her goal of becoming a special educator, then upped her teaching game in 1999 by becoming certified in the Wilson Reading System® (WRS). Most recently, she taught for 12 years at the Churchill Center and School in St. Louis, MO, before retiring in 2017. She continues to tutor struggling readers.

“Back when I was learning Wilson, we were creating our own workbooks and using cookie sheets to house our magnetic tiles. For the first time in my life, I learned our language. I mean really learned it. I got answers to confusing questions that I never even knew had answers: ‘Oh! So this is why s says /z/!’ I couldn’t wait to open the eyes of my students, as mine had been opened. There was now a system in tandem with my compassion,” she said. 

“Wilson is a game changer, a confidence builder, a magical and brilliant gift for any human learning our language. But the biggest gift is that it gives struggling readers their first sense of competence and feeling good about themselves. It builds their self-esteem, and some of these kids have never felt that – ever. It’s amazing to see that happen.”

Cara Boliantz, a reading tutor in Ohio, and Christina Farrell, a special education teacher at a public school district in Illinois, shared similar experiences.

“When I was in elementary school, I was diagnosed with dyslexia,” said Cara, a Wilson Dyslexia Practitioner who earned her WRS Level I Certification in 2016. “My mother fought long and hard for some type of phonics program to be taught at my public school. I eventually was taught the Wilson Reading System. Years later, I am now a Wilson certified tutor! I get the opportunity to teach students that deal with the same issues I live with every day. It brings me so much joy to encourage my kids with their self-esteem and enforce perseverance.”

When you’ve experienced the same struggles as your students, you can relate to their frustration and the vulnerability they feel revealing their reading weakness, said Christina, who is currently pursuing her WRS Level I Certification.

“During my introductory Wilson course, the trainer explained that one’s ability to read and write is not an indicator of intelligence. This was a game-changer for me. It confirmed what I had always suspected about my own learning and the learning of my students,” she said.

“I became a special education teacher because I know the loneliness, self-esteem issues, and generalized anxiety that are associated with being a ‘poor learner.’ From day one of working with my practicum student, I was convinced that this style of learning is THE WAY to rebuild confidence and gain access to a world that feels utterly inaccessible. I am overjoyed with the progress I have seen in my students, but the psychological changes I have seen in myself have been nothing short of miraculous. WRS is a passion for me, and I am honored to have the privilege of sharing this gift with as many students as I can.”

Pictured: Wilson Dyslexia Practitioner Evan Lefton. 

This story originally appeared in the Fall/Winter issue of The Decoder.