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Director of Teacher Training makes teaching students with dyslexia life mission

Editor's Note: This is the first in a series of articles about Fundamental Learning Center staff members.

Tammy Kofford does not believe anything about her journey with teaching reading is a coincidence. It all feels predestined, she says.

Tammy did not like to read as an elementary school student. As an adult when she began teaching her own classroom full of elementary school-aged children struggling to learn to read, she wanted to help them but did not know how. No one ever taught her how to instruct students who have reading difficulties when she was in the education program at a Kansas university.

“I had a lot of struggling readers in my class,” she said. “I was frustrated.”

A colleague at Tammy’s school was using a program called Alphabetic Phonics she learned at the Scottish Rite Center of West Texas located in Lubbock, Texas. Tammy applied for the program and received a scholarship in 1994. And that is where her journey helping students learn to read began.

Tammy became the Migrant Title I Teacher for kindergarten through fourth grade to read in small groups at a school in Texas the year following her training, and she watched the students progress.

What Tammy didn’t know before she trained in Alphabetic Phonics was that she herself is dyslexic — or that she would later have three children with dyslexia who would desperately need the teaching methods she learned at the Scottish Rite Center.

“When I first went to training and started hearing about the characteristics of dyslexia, then I realized, ‘Wow, that’s why I struggled to read,’” Tammy said. “All throughout elementary school, I knew I was in the slow reading group. I knew when I came across a word I didn’t know, I couldn’t figure it out.”

As Tammy progressed through the Alphabetic Phonics curriculum with her students, she began to fill in the gaps and became a better reader, writer and speller herself. Alphabetic Phonics is an ungraded, multisensory curriculum based on Orton-Gillingham teaching methods recommending how to teach the structure of the English language.

When Tammy’s husband Mark’s job brought the couple to Wichita a year later, Tammy began seeking out private tutoring clients. That is how she met Fundamental Learning Center co-founder and executive director Jeanine Phillips.

Tammy and Jeanine formed a friendship, and when Jeanine and Gretchen Andeel founded Fundamental Learning Center in 2000, Tammy began working for the center part-time. This continued for years as she homeschooled her growing family.

When Tammy’s oldest son, Drayton, was 6, he was diagnosed with dyslexia by Dr. Brian Stone, who offices today at Fundamental Learning Center.

“When he did his evaluation, I felt like I was Drayton,” Tammy said. “I thought, ‘He might as well be talking about me.’ Drayton had major processing issues. When I was a kid, I felt like people thought I wasn’t listening to them. I had processing issues. I felt like, wow, Drayton and I are so much alike in the way we learn.”

Tammy began the Alphabetic Phonics program with Drayton and worked with him before and after school. Tammy’s other two children, Austin and Minette, came along, and she decided to homeschool them and use Alphabetic Phonics for their language arts curriculum.

“I gave my kids the gift of reading and spelling and also written expression,” Tammy said. “My kids are all better readers than I am, better spellers than I am, and all write better than I can.”

Today Tammy works full time at Fundamental Learning Center as the director of teacher training. After teaching many years using the Alphabetic Phonics curriculum she continued her training and certified as a Qualified Instructor through the Academic Language Therapy Association, and she teaches other adults how to work with struggling readers.

Each day at work, Tammy shows compassion toward parents and teachers who are learning how to work with children they know with dyslexia and other reading difficulties.

“I think a lot of it has to do with my personal experience and the experience and struggles of my children,” Tammy said. “I hate to see any child feel like I did (in school) or experience some of the shame and the self doubt that I experienced as a child … struggling to read, write, spell and say words correctly.”

A career with Fundamental Learning Center has been the perfect fit for Tammy.

“My favorite thing about working at the center is everyone there understands me as a person,” Tammy said. “They understand my dyslexia, my processing, and I can be myself.”

Tammy uses her caring personality to reach others, and as she shows other adults how to teach struggling readers, she said she is fulfilling her purpose.

“I have always felt like teaching kids who struggle to read is a mission; it’s not a job,” she said. “It’s a mission God wants me to do. I’m just lucky I get paid for it. If I had tons of money, I would do it anyway because that’s what I love to do.”

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