Back in 2016, Michael Karras was the keynote speaker at Educators’ Institute of Ontario, as an educator himself, addressing his colleagues, people with LD and their families, with a truly challenging and inspiring story-his own. His compelling narrative concerned his LDs, and, in more than many ways, his schooling. Nevertheless, despite the disheartening challenges he faced, he acquired a BA and Special Education from the University of Saskatchewan and has worked since 2000, first as a Special Education resource teacher, later as a capacity-building Special Education resource teacher, and until 2016 for certain, as principal at a pre-K to grade 12 school, admitting to having led a life that was genuinely turned around by teachers.
Growing up in a rural, mining area, Michael was a member of a loving family and a small warm community, but his struggling was evident early on and since both his father and grandfather had difficulties with reading and writing, he underwent the relevant tests. He was then diagnosed with dyslexia and ADHD. There is a rather vivid YouTube animation episode, where he describes what an eventful adventure his school years had been, regardless of his early diagnosis, primarily because his teachers didn’t really know how to help, pushing his family to change schools all the time and also because Special Education, back in those days, resembled a roller coaster the way it would provide help and then take it away based on criteria he had to meet constantly. In Michael’s own words “Why would you take something away that’s working? Would you take glasses from a kid who is shortsighted?”. From those days he chooses to remember his teachers that were well-intentioned and helpful, in any way they could, highlighting a story about his French teacher in 5th or 6th grade and how accommodating she had been.
In fact, Michael’s real break occurred only after being asked to interrupt his academic studies for one year, due to marginally low scores. That was when his mother, after watching him crack up from depression, urged him to join an EAPD program. He emphasizes: “In six months of going through the Learning Disability Association of Saskatchewan in this program, this pilot project, I learned to read. Six months. Something that every teacher that I had from kindergarten to grade 12 could not help me with. But they knew what to do, right? They had the background information.” From that moment, this incredibly courageous, determined man, having received proper guidance and training, went on to become an inspiring capacity-building Special Education resource teacher, who can, with tears in his eyes, reminisce about how rewarding and fulfilling it feels to receive his students’ special thanks.
Michael Karras’ story highlights the need to strengthen soft and transversal skills of teachers, for the inclusion of disabled learners in educational activities, which consists of an important aspect of our project. More specifically, our project targets foreign language teachers since FLs dominate our daily lives, from traveling, academic experience, to better employability. Its outputs, a digital compendium, an online training program and a self-assessment tool are aiming to improve the knowledge and skills of foreign language teachers, by using innovative methods and practices, all free, fully responsive user friendly and multilingual. So, stay tuned and be ready to access and benefit from them soon!