Equality or Special Treatment?

Learning difficulties are like bum holes: everyone’s got one. Take a dyslexia screening test online now, and you will find (perhaps to your own surprise) that you are indeed ‘mildly dyslexic’, if not severely… 

Some people really struggle to understand the difference between ‘their’ and ‘there’, while others find 12 x 9 a puzzle. But if you’re a great Maths teacher, it’s probably not because you know the difference between ‘their’ and ‘there’, and likewise, if you’re teaching English, you’re probably not going to use equations to explain why grammar is so important.

Nevertheless, we have all been taught this but only some of us seem to just get it. For those of us who don’t, we have learning difficulties. This somehow translates to accepting the fact that we can’t grasp something and therefore require special treatment, be it extra time in exams (to clear the brain fog), a separate room on our own (so we can concentrate better), or a reader (because if someone read ‘their’ out loud we’d know exactly which ‘their’ they were talking about…)

Legislation has come into place commonly known as The Equality Act 2010 which seeks to protect us from discrimination in the workplace and in wider society. Therefore, someone who has struggled with grammar all their life can still become an English teacher passing on their solid knowledge of the English language. Why? Because everyone deserves an equal opportunity to perform a role in our society. Why then, does a paraplegic not kick-off when their application to become a builder is rejected? Because they never applied for it in the first place as they realised the job just wasn’t a good fit for them. Which leads me to ask again, why, in the name of equality, do people who get their words all in a jumble get the opportunity to stand in front of a room of children and teach them how to read and write? Don’t those children have an equal right to the best possible education? Isn’t that generation being discriminated against by deciding that anyone can teach them because that’s equal?

Oh, but of course, we can overcome our learning difficulties and still write flawless English on the whiteboard for all to see and learn from, we just need extra time! 25% usually suffices, though some do prefer 50%, or sometimes unlimited time is best – can’t we all just have unlimited time? Well, unfortunately, with only 24 hours in the day and approximately 7 hours spent in school, we don’t get the luxury of saying, ‘bare with me class, I’ll get this done before midnight’. So why do we need to make exceptions (a.k.a reasonable adjustments) for this in exams? Isn’t this simply another way of making us ill prepared to deal with the realities of life?

I am strongly against letting something stand in the way of what I want to do, and if being an English teacher was something I was passionate about, I would put double the effort into ensuring that dyslexia didn’t stand in the way of that either. Having extra time and a room on my own to counteract my dyslexic tendencies is not a practical long-term solution when my goal is to be surrounded by a classroom of kids and a bell ringing to tell me when times up. Therefore, without receiving any special treatment to compensate for my poor spelling, I would either have to learn how to spell, or go down a different career path. It is not our birth right to do what we’re passionate about; that’s a choice and those choices start with trying hard to overcome difficulties, not compensate for them, as well as being reasonable with ourselves and choosing to play to our strengths because the world could use more people who are good at what they do.

I was furiously devastated and humiliated by the whole process. I’d put myself and my family through two arduous years of stress and tight budgeting, only to be denied an opportunity to reap any reward because my brain couldn’t calculate mathematics.

Everyone said I should be a teacher because I used to teach my teddies and dolls from the age of five and I had a way with children (and inanimate objects alike). I also happened to be fluent in Spanish after marrying a Spaniard and spending the first six years of my marriage in Madrid before moving back to the UK. So, after twelve years of climbing my way up to a Restaurant Manager position and sacrificing many weekend sleep-ins and time with my family, I took the leap of faith, demoted myself to a part-time waitress and began a PGCE to teach secondary level Spanish. My husband was given a promotion that had been a long time coming and certainly went a long way towards affording my tuition fees.

However, as with any silver lining, the grey cloud that loomed below this fortunate achievement was his new commitment to travelling abroad for work conferences. This left me struggling between unsociable restaurant hours, studying, arranging more childcare for my little girl and suffering from stress induced hair-loss at an alarming rate. Remarkably, I reached the end of my PGCE and was on the brink of beginning a new career as a secondary Spanish teacher, when I was confronted with my biggest hurdle: a newly introduced numeracy and literacy prerequisite for trainee teachers to pass before gaining Qualified Teacher Status (QTS). I breezed through the literacy test without fuss, but the numeracy test became the crippling handicap on my future career.

Twelve years after completing GCSE Maths, my dyscalculia report had disappeared and my inability to make arithmetical calculations had remained. I was diagnosed with dyscalculia when it became clear that my poor Maths grades were not consistent with my other A grades. I remember bursting into tears at my mother’s kitchen table over every failed maths test at school. In Year 11 my school ran a full psychological assessment on my cognitive ability and the report from this assessment entitled me to additional maths tutoring and additional time in any mathematical exams. Thankfully, with this support, I was able to achieve the required standard and finish school.

Unfortunately, my report had been lost amid moving countries and homes several times and without it, or the spare cash to afford a new one, I was unable to evidence my requirement for additional time in this particularly punishing numeracy test. I failed my first attempt by 2 marks, then by 3 marks, and finally, by 1 mark, I was locked-out of reattempting the test for a two-year period “to allow me to improve my numeracy skills before reapplying for QTS”. I also failed to see how my numeracy skills had any bearing on my competency as a Spanish teacher. Alas, I completed my PGCE a few more thousands in debt and without job prospects.

Refusing to be deterred from a career where I showed both interest and potential, I applied for teaching assistant jobs with dogged determination and eventually secured a position and began teaching. Well, I ‘assist’ with teaching, which means I am a teacher on half the salary of a qualified teacher. I still work a few restaurant shifts a week to help cover our bills but I know with certainty that my efforts are not in futility because my Spanish learners remind me every day that I made the right career move. The school where I have now been a TA for two years, has offered to carry out another dyscalculia assessment for me to gain the support I require to pass the numeracy test and gain QTS, with the desire to employ me as their full-time Spanish teacher. 


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