My day begins at 5.30am. I like to rise early and cycle to work through woods and fields, enjoying the connection to the outdoors. This grounds me – and I can carry the positive mindset into my working day.
By 8.30am, I am welcoming our children indoors, at the front door of St Vincent’s School – a special school for children with visual impairment in Liverpool. By chatting to the students, I can make sure that they have a happy start to the day and feel ready to do their best.
My day continues with the arrival of my first pupil at my office, at 9am. I work on a one-to-one basis, teaching mobility and orientation. This subject is paramount to the education of children without sight or with limited vision. It is their means of access to a sighted environment – and it can take some adapting to.
Everything that I ask my children to do, I have achieved myself – under blindfold – as part of my qualification to teach. It is to be admired how a person without sight can venture out into the world, with only their accumulated abilities and a long cane to guide them. Through my lessons, I offer a bespoke understanding to each individual I work with and work hard to establish meaningful relationships based on trust.
I head out with my first student of the day to undertake bus travel, one of the more daunting elements of the programme. My morning continues with two further lessons, each individualised. I take pride in ensuring that every child I work with receives personalised encouragement.
At noon, I stop for lunch. At 12.30pm, I meet with our principal to discuss an initiative we run called “Sightbox”. This is a sports package designed to help visually impaired (VI) children in developing countries, promoting movement and understanding of spatial concepts, while creating friendship groups through the shared enjoyment of sport.
In the afternoon, our school operates a programme of enrichment activities based around creative, project-based learning, designed to identify individual pupil strengths, encourage friendships with sighted peers and lead to the world of employment.
VI children face incredible challenges in their lives and an unemployment rate of 85 per cent. Our enrichment afternoon is an approach to challenging this statistic.
My contribution to the programme is a creative workshop that I developed called “Shenanigans”, which equips students with skills for employment in writing and other ancillary industries, such as narration, audiobook production or sound engineering. As well as being a teacher, I’m also an author, writing under the pseudonym Harrison F Carter. I put this experience into delivering the workshop.
Each half term, I introduce a new theme to inspire creativity. Topics have included the UN’s sustainable development goals, the Terracotta Army, the First World War, and various competitions. It is a lot of fun and there is evidence the workshop is generating important transferable skills and is improving pupils’ confidence.
At the end of my day, I hope that my energy has served to enhance and enrich the experiences of our children – and promoted enjoyment in their lives, which for me represents the real value of my work.
David Benbow is a mobility and orientation teacher at St Vincent’s School in Liverpool