Falling on deaf ears;Interview;Linette O'Connor

14th August 1998 at 01:00
A young woman graded as 'outstanding' for her teaching practice - and the sort of recruit chief inspectors dream about - cannot get a job. Elaine Williams finds out why

Linette O'Connor is not short of initiative. She's not short of passion either. Passion for teaching that is. Newly-qualified as a primary teacher, Linette has been graded "outstanding" for her teaching practice and it's easy to see why.

Single-minded about her vocation, she has tried to harness as many skills as possible outside her statutory teacher training, even going so far as to undertake a short course in teaching rugby union football "just in case it might be useful".

An adventurous traveller, she uses her trekking forays into the rainforests of Thailand and diving expeditions off the coast of Malaysia as an opportunity to gather resource material - fabrics, religious images and other objects to stimulate children's imagination and curiosity.

She's the sort of teacher chief inspectors of schools dream about - bubbly, energetic, sharp, witty, encouraging but firm, a mature entrant committed to working in the inner city. Linette is also profoundly deaf, which is probably why, 19 job applications later, she is still waiting to be called for interview.

Linette was prepared for this. She is not discouraged by the fact that few profoundly deaf teachers teach outside special schools or units but acknowledges schools' anxiety in taking her on. She didn't expect to walk into a job and is ready to spend the meantime undertaking voluntary and supply work.

According to Mrs Barbara Harris, the head of Park Road Junior, Infant and Nursery School in Batley, West Yorkshire, where Linette did her teaching practice, Linette is the best trainee she has ever supervised. Her deafness proved positive rather than negative in her teaching of a "challenging" Year 5 class in a school where 75 per cent of the children are on free school meals and 40 per cent belong to ethnic minorities.

"Anybody like Linette, who has come through against the odds," says Mrs Harris, "has a heightened sense of what it is like for children who are struggling. We have a deaf unit here, but the hearing children benefited just as much from her very visual presentation.

"There is always something to look at or hold as a key indication of what she is teaching about. Linette also constantly checks that children understand her, and that reinforces her teaching. It issomething most teachers don't do enough of.

"She is always extremely well prepared, she is warm and humorous and builds up lovely relationships with children. My main concern about taking her on was discipline. I was convinced she would not be able to manage a whole class. But she is visually very alert and her classroom management is excellent."

Schools who take on a deaf teacher are entitled to funding from the Government's placement advisory counselling team, which provides expert advice and financial help to employers. Through this scheme Linette was supported during her teaching practice by a classroom interpreter.

Linette, now aged 30, was educated at a Sheffield comprehensive with no specialist support and came out with four CSEs - better qualified than most of her deaf peers.

She first worked as a clerk for Sheffield City Council, and then, during a five-year stint as a financial assistant with the Bradford and Northern Housing Association, she embarked on GSCE English and maths. Afterwards she left to take a mature entrants course to qualify for the BEd course at Bradford and Ilkley Community College.

At school Linette was bullied, and insensitive teachers made it difficult for her to lip-read, made her feel inferior and failed to give her the support she craved, a factor which has contributed to her drive to succeed. She is determined to teach in mainstream schools and believes her deafness makes her a more adaptable teacher, more alert to children's difficulties.

"I am very aware of when children are not understanding," she says. "I can tell by their facial expressions. Different children have different ways oflearning, and I would always wish to respond with different methods of teaching, to be ready with a variety of ways of putting things across.

"Also, children know that if they want to talk to me, they have to be patient and slow down and that it's best to speak when we are at eye level. I think all of that aids communication.

"Children are curious about my deafness, but they don't have a problem with it. They are very accepting. I think I am a good role model. I show children that if you really want to do something, then you can do it."

So Linette is prepared to bide her time and wait for the right school to come along.

"If schools are just seeing me as a deaf person," she says, "then it's best for me not to work there. It's their loss not mine. I want to work in a school that will accept me for what I am. I am optimistic that the right job will turn up."

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