Did you have any concerns about speaking with your students about your disability?
I wasn’t worried about talking to my pupils about my disability. I thought I’d have some silly questions or sarcastic comments but I haven’t. If kids are annoyed with you they tend to look for your weak point, so I wondered if my disability might become that, but in five years I’ve never had any negative comments. It’s quite surprising really, and I thought it would be good for people to know of my positive experience in the classroom if they’re thinking of applying for the Leadership Development Programme (LDP).
How do you manage your disability at work?
My left leg below the knee is prosthetic, I have an abnormal right arm with no hand and no digits, and an abnormal left hand with two digits. If I get a new class I tend to just explain my disability to them and give them the chance to ask questions. I tend to say that the only thing I can’t do is handstands, which makes them giggle and breaks the tension.
I thought teaching would be something I’d be good at. I just like working with young people and I liked the idea of working in a challenging setting. I like a challenge – it makes it more interesting. I take a bottom set of Year 11s who are working at E-grade level at GCSE. I gave them their mock results recently and they’ve come incredibly far. They were so proud, they were absolutely buzzing – to the point that I said, “Get your phones out and call your Mum.”
How has Teach First helped you to do well at your workplace?
When I started the LDP I was asked by the school and by Teach First, “Do you need anything? If you do, let us know.” If I had a problem or needed something it would have been sorted but because I said, “It’s fine,” they just left me to get on with it, which is what I wanted. After five years, some of my colleagues still don’t even know I have a prosthetic leg.
What advice or top tips would you offer?
To anyone who is worried about teaching with a disability, I would say, be clear with yourself. If a disability takes over your life and affects the things you do, maybe teaching is not for you. But if you go into the classroom and say, “This is me,” the chances are the children will just accept it. I’ve had quite a few questions about my disability, but no silly questions at all: How do you write? Can you drive? How do you tie your hair back in the morning? The pupils know that I can, but they want to know how I’ve done it.
I think my disability raises questions, which is good, so you just have to make sure you know what you want to say to the pupils.