I was named in the New Year's Honours list for 2019 for my services to raising awareness of stammering, a hidden disability that I have. It was a total surprise and an honour that I'll cherish forever, stemming from a 12-year personal campaign of raising awareness in the media and at teaching conferences.
I thought, then, that the following six months would be all about stammering, another chance to keep on highlighting this condition, and it has been, up to a point. But what I didn’t think I’d gain from receiving a British Empire Medal (BEM) was an insight into the thoughts on our teaching profession held by the wide range of people I’ve met as a result at award gatherings. Here are a few things I have learned:
People are genuinely interested in teachers and teaching
It’s a job people understand – to a point – without needing to know too much about it, and because of that they feel able to ask more specific questions about demographics, school roll, behaviour and so on. People ask me about the children and what interests they have nowadays. They ask me what current “trend” we’re being expected to roll out. They have asked me what I enjoy about my job, and they can relate to both what I enjoy and where I feel there is room for the profession to grow. Despite what social media might try and tell us, not once has anyone ever used an opportunity meeting me to have a pop about our new pay deal or take a swipe at teachers' holidays – it is an overwhelming feeling of genuine interest that I have felt from them.
Teaching with a stammer: ‘Embrace your quirks and become a better teacher’
Another primary teacher’s view: ‘I love teaching, but it’s a soul-eating profession’
Society’s perception of teaching: We don’t become teachers to achieve ‘status’
Most people have a degree of compassion for teachers
Most of the people I have spoken to have been quick to tell me what a “hard job” teaching is, especially in our current “political climate”, and have sympathised with children as they navigate the complexities of a changing digital world. The non-teachers I’ve met in these social situations all have a degree of understanding about our job, and are on our side.
People want teachers to be 'real' – not robots
Since the award of the BEM, I’ve also had members of the public tell me that they wish that their teachers at school showed themselves to be real people like me and not chalk-and-talk robots. I try not to hide that I am a person with a stutter and not a fluent speaker. This shows the children that I’m not “normal” and allows them to be themselves, too. We are good at celebrating differences in our children and young people – but do we do it as the teacher?
My BEM means that I will go to plenty more gatherings in the near future that I wouldn’t otherwise have been at, and I’m enjoying the opportunities to talk about stammering and teaching. The past six months have reminded me to be proud about what I do and to celebrate being a teacher. Despite all the challenges, it really is a great, interesting and fulfilling job.
Adam Black is a primary teacher in Scotland who, in the New Year's Honours list, received the British Empire Medal for raising awareness of stammering. He tweets @adam_black23