The employment event was crowded. The sound of many conversations washed over me as I navigated through the crowd, Isla seeking out a path for us. Multiple tables were set up, some advertising graduate schemes, others volunteering opportunities. I had a list of people I wanted to see.
I’m in my second year and not looking for a job just yet. I like knowing what my options are and plan to intern in a company one summer. This was the first careers event I’d attended at university and I was optimistic that I would find several options for my future.
I stopped off at a few of the stalls, passing along my contact details and listening to the different internships that they offered. There were already several promising options, especially for my final year.
I’m not sure that teaching is the path for me. Whilst I’ve enjoyed all the work experience I’ve had in this area, I don’t believe it is my calling. Nevertheless, I wanted to find out what the Department for Education could offer me once I graduated.
I approached their area of the room, waited my turn in the queue and then stepped up to speak to them.
Me: I’m interested in what options I have; I’m a second year Spanish student.
Him: In teaching?
Me: Yes, possibly.
Him: Well as a languages student you’ll be in demand, you can get PGCE funding…are you profoundly blind?
Me: thrown by the question Um, pretty much completely blind yes.
Him: I think that would be very hard for you to be honest, I don’t think you could…
Me: There’s no reason why I couldn’t do it, I use assistive technology and can make adaptations where necessary.
Him: I still don’t think…
Eventually, he told me what would be on offer but it was clear he had already made up his mind. On knowing my level of vision, he decided that teaching would not be a profession I could enter. That even the act of studying to become a teacher would be too difficult for me. I chose to end that conversation, to take the information he could give me and continue with my day.
As I turned to leave, I heard him speak again. “Now let me stroke that lovely dog of yours.”
It was not a question, not something he considered worthy of my approval. Despite all he had done, he simply expected me to say yes. That, most of all felt like a slap in the face.
We need to do more to ensure disabled students aren’t put in this position. There is no reason why a disabled person can’t become a teacher. As with many jobs, we will make adaptations to ensure that we can be successful in the role. Teachers are some of the people who can influence children the most. I’m sure we can all look back and remember a teacher that motivated us to be better, that gave us encouragement and showed us that we could be successful. Children deserve to see themselves in those roles, to know that they too can grow up to become educators if they wish. Denying disabled people the opportunity to become teachers denies disabled children the chance to have positive role models that they can truly identify with. However, most of all it excludes a whole group of qualified people from getting the job they deserve.
I urge the UK government to better train the DFE representatives that are attending careers fairs. Their attitude towards disabled students is currently extremely dismissive. We can do better, we must.