My physical difficulties have been far from rib-tickling…

27th July 2018 at 00:00
Struggling through work with a couple of broken ribs has given Tom Starkey an insight into the difficulties faced by learners with mobility problems

I'm writing this having cracked a couple of ribs after an unfortunate encounter with a staircase that bested me both physically and intellectually. I’m not at death’s door (although given my tendency towards the dramatic, you probably wouldn’t be able to tell) but I am in a fair bit of pain and my mobility is down for the count.

Luckily for me, I’ve not got classes, so I can just about shuffle through the day (a shuffle that becomes distinctly more pronounced if I believe it’ll garner more sympathy) but it did make me think about the physicality of teaching. Yes, what I do doesn’t really compare to the exertion of some jobs – I’m not nearly on the same rung as our sports apprentices or public service students, say – but not being at my optimum has made me realise that teaching in FE isn’t the most sedentary of pursuits. Even when teaching an “academic” subject like I do, there is almost constant movement. Movement in the classroom, from classrooms, around buildings, across to different campuses, home visits, lifting folders, books, reaching for the projector, dashing up to the fourth floor to have a chat with another department – it all adds up.

Thinking about accessible routes

That I’ve only really considered this since not being able to move as well as normal has highlighted to me the privileged position I have been in up until this point. I’ve never considered it because I’ve never had to. I’ve never had to think about the most accessible route, whether it’s too busy a time to use the lifts, whether I don’t bother with that breaktime catch-up with the support team as their office is two corridors away and every time I attempt to get up I feel like someone’s sticking me in the side with a harpoon.

I’ve supported students with physical difficulties throughout my career and prided myself on being aware of the problems that are faced by learners and staff when it comes to limited mobility. But awareness isn’t experience.

I know that I’m nothing but a tourist in this country where others reside and I’m not going to pretend that my busted ribs are equivalent to a permanent disability because that’d make me a complete and absolute tool. But they have allowed me a small insight into the problems in college that many face daily, and hopefully I’ll be able to keep that insight close, even as my pummelled insides begin to heal themselves.

Sometimes we don’t even realise what we take for granted as we travel forwards, uncomprehending of the numerous, monotonous challenges that are faced by so many. I’m as guilty of it as anyone. So as uncomfortable and shuffling as I am at the moment, perhaps having a harpoon in the side for a little while may serve as something of a small reminder of this.

Tom Starkey teachers English at a college in the North of England. He tweets @tstarkey1212

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