Teacher of the deaf (primary teacher)

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Hayley, 31

What do primary school teachers do?

A teacher with 2 young students painting. Teacher of the Deaf (Primary Teacher).All primary teachers do something different because it’s so dependent on the kids you’ve got. My group of deaf students is a bit more able to cope with the normal curriculum, so my job is more about supporting them with their learning rather than trying to teach them something completely different. I teach grade 1s and 2s.

Why did you become a primary school teacher?

I decided that I wanted to be a teacher when I was 11. I actually decided when I saw something on TV that had sign language interpreting and I went, "I wanna do that." So from there I did a bit of signing, did some short courses and learnt a bit more about the deaf culture and community. I went straight into a teaching degree after high school and then went into teaching the deaf after that.

Being a teacher of the deaf is a different experience from being a class teacher. We’re very lucky here in this setting that we can pretty much do both. I’ve never been a classroom teacher and I’ve not wanted to be there. I’m happy working with just my five kids and working really intensively rather than spreading myself across 22 kids. I’ve always wanted to be a teacher of the deaf. It’s not like any other teaching role.

With other special needs kids you’re in different settings. With the hearing impaired kids here at school, the only difference between them and the other kids is that they don’t have access to language. They have the intelligence and can learn exactly the same as everyone else. They just haven’t had access to the same opportunities.

I’d rather be a teacher of the deaf because what I want is to help them achieve as much as they are able to, as much as a hearing child. Special education is different because these kids can only achieve to their potential whereas here, the deaf kids are basically like any other child, they just need help along the way to develop their language to access their learning potential.

How did you become a primary school teacher?

I did the Bachelor of Education (Primary) at Melbourne University and then straight into a post-graduate diploma for education for the hearing impaired. Two years after that I went back and did the Masters Degree as well, so all up that was seven years.

What do you like best about your job?

It’s very rewarding. It’s really nice to see that the things you’ve taught your kids repeat back to you, especially vocabulary and ideas that you know weren’t there before, and use it in the classroom or outside in the real world.

What is the hardest thing about your job?

It’s when they just don’t get it! (laughs) When you teach the same thing for a week or a month or so and they still don’t get it. But sometimes they’re just not ready or don’t have the experience or have something that stops them from understanding. It can be difficult and frustrating. Patience is a very big part of it.

What does a typical working day involve?

Go, go, go! First thing in the morning in the classroom with the kids they’re bright and bubbly and full of questions, like they usually are. In here we take our kids to the deaf facility in the morning and do reading and writing with them.

Then we’re back in the classroom figuring out what we’re doing, making sure they know what they’re doing. The class teacher will give the kids instructions and make sure they understand them. As they work I go around to my kids to make sure they each know what they’re doing, then you have lunch and a break before you’re back on the job.

You compare yourself a lot to an office job, but unlike that, whereas an office worker can answer the phone in the middle of the day, you can’t do that as a teacher. You don’t even look at your phone until after 3:30pm.

You’re always with the kids and always worrying about what they’re doing and there’s no sitting back and letting them do whatever they want. You always have to be watching them.

What sort of skills do you need to do your job?

It depends on the situation. We’re working with classroom teachers, with a classroom program, so you have to be respectful of that.

No one goes into teaching ready for the job. You talk to people who are fresh out of uni and they say what you learn at uni is nothing compared to the actual experience of being in a classroom.

You have the general skills of a classroom teacher and what you have to be teaching, but every year you may change grades and every year with the group of kids you have, you try exactly what you did the year before and it doesn’t work and you have to do something different right there on the spot. You have to be very flexible and be able to adapt to what the kids need.

What advice do you have for people thinking about doing this job?

It’s a really wonderful rewarding career but it is hard. It is NOT a nine-to-five job. Everyone here goes above and beyond. Everyone takes their work home with them to plan, adapt and complete after hours and everyone does more than what is expected of them.

We do all these things and don’t expect gratitude for it, but to be recognised for the hard work by those who are outside this profession would be nice.

You have the few, occasional parents who really understand what you do, but the majority of the community out there have no idea how hard it is to be a teacher. We work extremely hard and do mega-overtime, which is not paid for.

That’s just the reality of the job, so you have to be very committed to it and you absolutely have to love kids. You wouldn’t put all this work and all these hours in if you didn’t love what you were doing.

Sadly it doesn’t help with a shortage of teachers or anything, but you have to really want to do it in order to start in this profession and be successful at it.

Find out more about this career path at myfuture.edu.au (new window) (Note: free registration is required to access the myfuture site).