Social conditions

A day in the life of a teacher of English

This is the diary of a teacher of literacy and English to students who are blind or visually impaired.

The alarm wakes me up at 7am and I automatically switch on Radio 4's Today Programme so I come to full consciousness to the sounds of war looming against Iraq and all the other ghastliness going on in the world. At least no more reports of earthquakes, unlike yesterday morning when I learned that the bizarre noise I had heard in the middle of the night was not, as I had imagined, a giant owl landing on the guttering, but in fact an earth tremor of 4.8 on the Richter Scale.

After all the normal morning rush of packing children plus German exchange student off to school I drive my husband to Builth and back at top speed. He has to see the solicitor and I have to leave for my one hour and ten minutes commute to work. We share a car so the logistics of our mobility get very complicated at times.

I arrive at my job safely but already somewhat frazzled. No chance to relax though as I go straight into teaching. I work at the Royal National College for the Blind in Hereford. Teaching literacy and English as a foreign language. The job is full of challenges. How do you explain to a totally blind student from Somalia what ski-ing consists of when he has never experienced snow let alone considered belting down a mountain on two thin pieces of wood.

My first session consists of supporting students who are trying to write up assignments. One girl is using the speech facility to speak back what she has typed up on her PC. It is for psychology AS level and consists of an experiment to memorise a sequence of numbers; she struggles to get it all down in a presentable form. It is an incredibly laborious process for her, and I admire her stamina and attitude; she only fully lost her sight last year and is still coming to terms with it.

We have foreign gap year students who come over to help out with mobility, driving and all the other little things which the sighted take for granted. This year they have some from Peru, Colombia, Ecuador and Poland. I teach then English. The Spanish speakers have their own particular pronunciation problems. "Jew are berry vizzy" is their rendition of 'You are very busy'. I work on grammar and pronunciation with them to try to iron out their problems. The South Americans always wonder why we complain about the state of things in Britain as compared with their home countries they see so much wealth and opportunity here.

I have a Chinese student who is totally blind. She wants to learn enough so she can translate English books into Chinese braille as they are not available in China at the moment. I have arranged for her to listen to various talking books. The first one she tackles is 'Tess of the D'Urbervilles' by Thomas Hardy. Like so many of our students she uses words relating to her non-existent vision and tells me that she has 'seen' it at the cinema. At the moment she is like a flower that hasn't opened and bends her head down all the time. I hope her stay in Britain will help her to open up and blossom. We work from a braille language book but as the exercises are not always arranged in an exact sequence she frequently loses her place.

After work I drive home with Radio 4 as a backdrop to my thoughts as I mull over the day. I get back to Builth and pick up a few groceries and a video in honour of our German guest.

I go to the High School and wait to pick her up. The German children have been off in a coach to the Centre for Alternative Technology at Machynlleth and then onto the beach at Aberdovey. The weather couldn't be more perfect, we are having a blazing Indian summer and I learn, with the help of a dictionary, that they have all been doing somersaults in the sand.

Illus. By Rob Davies

I arrive home at 7pm having driven 100 miles and out of the house for 10 hours. It's time to cook supper and liase with Sue on the telephone about instructions for our forthcoming Pony Club rally.

When we all finally sit down to watch the film our little German guest falls fast asleep in the chair. We wake her up and she goes off to bed. I follow suit shortly afterwards and nod off to the comforting strains of the bedtime story on the radio.