DeAnna Dobbs' last day in front of a classroom will be May 17. The Highland special ed teacher will be retiring from her job in public education, but intends to keep helping people learn.
Dobbs recently opened her own private tutoring business, WildGrowth Learning, at 1011 Broadway in Highland. Currently, Dobbs operates her business part time, after school. However, at the end of the school year, she plans to take the business on full time.
"I didn't have this planned. It all kind of evolved into this," Dobbs said.
Dobbs' business is the extension of a late-blooming career.
"I didn't even start teaching until I was 36," Dobbs said.
She spent the first 15 years of her career as a mortgage banker. However, she said the job was just not right for her. She wanted a job she could be passionate about. Reading ledgers was insipid, but literature was inspiring.
Dobbs has been an ardent reader since she was young, and she wanted to work with children to foster that same fervor. So, in 1988, Dobbs started pursuing her teaching career by taking classes at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.
"It's been a journey ever since," she said.
After 10 years of part-time school, she realized her dream. She earned a bachelor's degree, and shortly after graduation, Dobbs started teaching special education at Highland High School.
Dobbs said that many of her student's academic troubles stemmed from their problems with reading. Determined to make a difference, she went back to school herself to learn how she could better help her students. She earned a master's degree in education and reading from SIUE.
"But I still didn't have that magic key to unlock why these kids couldn't figure out words," Dobbs said.
But a few years later, Dobbs found her answer.
It was 2009, and the school asked teachers if they would like to be trained in the Wilson Reading System, a structured literacy program based on phonological-coding research and Orton-Gillingham principles. The program helps grades 2-12 and adults with word-level deficits, have been unable to learn with other teaching methods, or who require more intensive instruction due to a learning disability, like as dyslexia.
Dobbs jumped at the opportunity.
"My hand shot up. I was like, 'Me, me me,'" she said.
It took her almost two full school years to gain her Wilson certifications, which gave her the ability to assess and intervene as a dyslexia therapist. The training was grueling, but it was worth it, Dobbs said.
"It works every time," she said.
After parents kept contacting her about the Wilson program's success, Dobbs began eventually began doing private tutoring. Because of the lack of this type of intervention in the area, Dobbs said her appointments grew to the point where she decided to open a business front.
"I hope that more people are aware that I am here and can take advantage of it," Dobbs said.
After her retirement, Dobbs said she will be able to take on more tutoring appointments. She will also have three summer enrichment reading workshops at the Louis Latzer Memorial Public Library, as well as an intensive summer reading boot camp.
Though Dobbs said her business only deals with reading, she said she hopes to eventually take on more tutors and possibly expand into other subjects.
"If every kid could learn to love to read, that would be the best gift that I could give them," she said.