I am always fascinated by people’s stories of why and how they got in to teaching. For some it seems to be an intrinsic desire that they are born with, others seem to find their passion as they go along or they have an ‘ah ha’ moment in which the light bulb suddenly flicks on and they see their path.
For me, although many keep saying they knew I would end up being a teacher, it was a gradual process. But there is one key moment that will remain with me for the rest of my life.
Several years and life times ago I ventured out to the states to work on a camp for children and adults with disabilities. I had never worked in any kind of care or education setting before and I was in for a steep learning curve.
My first week I was placed to work with a small group of middle aged men. I think it is incredibly rude and disrespectful to refer to people by their ‘disability’ but for the sake of this story and to give you slightly more context I will just tell you that they were a great group of guys with so many qualities, all medically classed as having complex learning disabilities and required 24 hour one-to-one care.
I spent a lot of my week working with one gentleman in particular, who I will refer to as ‘S’.
S loved going for long walks and singing songs (the list is endless). S also had quite limited communication skills and used a few basic makaton signs to make his needs known.
S was extremely sociable but his urge to be around people sometimes could be perceived negatively by others. Especially when he would shout ‘come on’, beckon with his arm and grab the person he wanted without warning.
Being the true English gent and being a stickler for manners I attempted to teach ‘S’ to say please by using the simple makaton sign. Why? I hear you ask. Well rightly or wrongly I believe it could and did help change people’s perceptions towards him. It also gave that slightly longer sentence structure of either ‘come on please’ or ‘please come on’ and this meant that the person being grabbed wasn’t always caught quite so off guard. It by no means happened all the time and he used it sporadically to say the least, but in turn the amount of positive interactions that S had that week increased. This was such a driver for him and because of the increase in such interaction, it appeared that he was happier.
At the end of the week S’s caregiver came to pick him up. As we walked through the car park to the vehicle he was going home in, we walked arm in arm singing his favourite song. I stood back as he was getting strapped in and he beckoned me shouting ‘come on’ repeatedly and I had to say ‘no sorry, it’s time for you to go home.’ Then as the door was closing I heard one last desperate ‘please?’ I smiled and waved as best I could, holding back the watery eyes as he drove away signing the word please repeatedly out of the car window and it is at that moment that I knew working with people was for me. I hadn’t changed the world, I hadn’t made a difference to the masses, but for a small moment I had had a positive impact on someone else’s life and taught them something, which they admittedly needed more practice and perseverance at, but may have a small positive impact on their life.
My journey to the present day; a student teacher wanting to work with children in early years, was still many years away and over the years I have been privileged to work with many different children and adults, but I have never forgotten S and the time I spent with him.
You may think to yourself ‘he’s only a student, what does he know?’ You’re right; I have a lot to learn about teaching. But if I can give you one piece of advice it is this. Find that special moment or something that keeps getting you out of bed in the morning because no matter what job you are in things will get tough. I am in no way deluded about the amount of work and stress that can be involved in teaching (a job involving those is not new to me) but surely if we can make even a small difference to just one person no matter who they are, it is worth it. Right?