Building Wings by Don Johnston

Building Wings (How I Made It Through School)  by Don Johnston (2006) was a treat to read. I was contacted by the publisher  and asked to review the book and materials. I pored over the materials and read the book and was impressed with what I read.

It’s an inspirational story about overcoming obstacles and learning how to read. I would recommend it to ages 7-100. I loved it because there are many people in this world who could benefit from this book. I know someone, who @ 38 years old, never learned to read. She is functionally illiterate because of her dyslexia. When we spoke about her dyslexia, she was happy to learn that she wasn’t alone. She says she always felt “stupid” because she could barely read and as a result, she could never “keep” up with the rest of the class. She knows how to shop for her children’s clothes, go grocery shopping & manages to keep money in her bank account, but desires to read. I would definitely recommend this book to her. Maybe reading Mr. Johnston’s story would spur her desire to read.

Now, on to the review. I will begin my review by asking this question- Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Well,  in order to answer that you need to know the context of which I’m speaking. I’m talking about behavior problems in special education students. Did the disability cause the misbehavior or did the misbehavior begin because the child is trying to cover it up?** Chicken or the Egg?.

Usually children receiving special education services are known for their behavior issues. So to answer the question, which came first, the chicken or the egg, I’d say the chicken. Don answers that question also. He chronicles his attempts to hide his learning disability by misbehaving or becoming the class clown.

I was so moved when I read this book. I was near tears more than once. Mr. Johnston’s story reminded me of my former students. They misbehaved so badly because they would rather have been thought of as “bad” than stupid. I am so glad I understood them. Every child isn’t so lucky though. There was a teacher of his that really disheartened me, Mrs. Arnus. Instead of trying to see past the surface, she treated him so badly. Having the wrong teacher can be very detrimental to a child’s social & academic well-being ** (The Wrong Seasoning (My Teacher Hates Me). I had to keep in mind that this was long before I.D.E.A.; before there was more sensitivity to the subject of Special Education. However, I have to admit that Special Education is still the red-headed step-child. We’ve come so far, but there’s still a long way to go.

Mr. Johnston endured through it all. A trait I really admire about Mr. Johnston was that he learned how to learn by learning his own learning style. He knew that he had a problem that needed to be fixed, so he fixed it. He took ownership of his own education. I’ve found that once someone, especially a child, takes ownership or their own education, things improve almost immediately. The same thing happened with Don. He took ownership of his education by finding something to motivate himself; something that he liked. That something turned out to be the Space Program. Once Don’s dad found out, he encouraged him. As a result, he continued to learn more and more since he knew something his father didn’t. This spurred his desire to learn more.

Because of his rough start, Don’s story could have turned out horribly wrong. There were many obstacles stacked against him. Thankfully, things in life seem to balance themselves out. In response to his bad experiences with Mrs. Arnus (His teacher who treated him badly), God blessed him with Mrs. Tedesco. There is something to be said for teachers who believe that every student can & will achieve if given the proper motivation. For Don, that balance came in the form of was Mrs. Tedesco. She complimented him instead of criticizing. She let him know that the skills he was developing were valuable. This inspired him. He didn’t even know he was developing his critical thinking skills. Because of Mrs. Tedesco and teachers like her, he was able to succeed.

If you would like to know how Mr. Johnston’s story ends, pick up his book for your child or student. You won’t be disappointed. It’s a very heartwarming story. As always, pick it up at your local library or bookstore, or here’s the website if you would like to order it directly from Don Johnston @ Building Wings.

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One Response

  1. Anyone can read Building Wings. It’s free online at the Don Johnston website. Don reads the book aloud. Teachers will like the Reader’s Theater worksheets that accompany the book. They are also free and can be downloaded to engage students in discussions about their learning styles and behaviors.

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