Ok, so it turns out I’m the world’s least dedicated blogger. 17 months have somehow passed since my last post and I’m ashamed to admit that my once so potent desire to provide a helpful incite into life as a blind teacher has sadly not come to pass. The combination of a heavy work load, a deep dislike for airing one’s life laundry in public and an enduring case of laziness has resulted in this blog coyly taking its place on the long list entitled “projects I never got round to finishing.” Sad really, not least because aside from educating me in the ways of education, the PGCE year opened my eyes to the pervasive stereotyping and downright discriminatory attitudes that exist, not just towards visually impaired people but with regards to disability in general.
I can’t begin to summarise a whole year’s worth of experiences, or indeed reduce an apparent epidemic of stereotyping into a few lines. However I will say that teaching itself I found to be creatively fulfilling and masses of fun. The children I encountered were wonderful without exception and on the whole the course itself whilst at times hard work and challenging, was one of the most enjoyable experiences of my professional life so far. However, it is honestly no exaggeration to say that by far the greatest challenge and certainly what I expended most of my energy upon was negotiating the corrosively negative opinions a large number of people demonstrated towards my status as a blind teacher. The explicit prejudices of a few, combined with the so called harmless stereotyping of many lead me to concede that a devastating amount of people have a tendency to focus upon what people with disabilities can’t do rather than the many things they can.
Now might I just state, I am no way insinuating that these attitudes only exist within education institutions, this is something I have encountered throughout my life in many different settings and with a great diversity of people. However, I believe that the seemingly “different” nature of a teacher being blind meant that during my PGCE year, I encountered more than the usual helping of raised eyebrows and unsavoury comments. On the whole, I was treated by members of the public and some professionals with a certain air of caution, as though at any moment the classroom could be trashed, a child could fail to flourish or perhaps just accidentally fall out of a window, all on account of me not being able to see. Of course there were many wonderful, supportive and nonjudgemental people too, however I spent the best part of the year wading through demoralising attitudes and trying to address assumptions which seemed to be ingrained in so many.
Being told I would struggle to get a job no matter how good a teacher I was as employers wouldn’t want to “take the risk”; being told how i was lucky no child had come to harm in class under my supervision; when conducting a successful lesson, being told “I assume your assistant planned that; being informed there are some jobs “some people just shouldn’t do” … I honestly could go on but I struggle to succinctly account for the comments and in some cases, actual dirty looks that were sent my way. All of this may have been slightly more tolerable had I struggled with the course, or found teaching to be difficult. However, all of this negativity stood out as being even more outrageous as I was actually pretty good and consistently assessed to be of a high standard. I really do wish I’d committed to this blog as my time on the PGCe enlightened me as to how much work there is to be done in order to challenge these ways of thinking not just in relation to teaching but in general.
So why am I bothering to revisit this now?
The familiar feelings of exasperation and anger I experienced during the PGCE year have recently been re-awoken, however this time with a new intensity. This is due to the arrival in my life of a mysterious, beautiful and completely enchanting tiny person, a person it is my job to look after forever.
Since announcing my pregnancy and subsequently becoming a parent, I have faced a new onslaught of people keen to announce their concern or general distaste towards my family planning decisions. A taxi driver when seeing my bump asked me if I thought it was “wise” to become a parent. My partner has been informed that he will have to be a very “hands-on dad” as I won’t be able to do my share of the child-rearing duties and even some friends have anxiously wondered aloud how on earth I’ll cope. All in all, it has once again been brought to my attention what an appallingly shoddy view many have of blind people. This is not ok!
My frustration and general despair at this reoccurring situation has evoked in me a sense of evangelical duty. I feel the urge to take to the streets, banner aloft and shout in the most raucous voice I can muster “blind people can be responsible, capable, fully functioning human beings too!” Alas, my poster paints were expended during my PGCE year and shouting is bad for the vocal chords, so once again I turn to this blog to assist me in spreading the message. However, in addition to detailing the experiences of a blind teacher, I wish to also provide some incite into life as a blind parent. I guess its not really to dissimilar, I have after all signed up to perhaps the most challenging teaching role of all. One thing will be different though . this time I promise I’ll be better at posting.