Ayesha Gavin: My long and hard journey to becoming a deaf teacher

Posted on July 26, 2013

Ayesha Gavin hit the headlines in May after qualifying as a teacher after suffering a lifetime of abuse and misunderstading as a result of her deafness. Today, she tells the whole story.

I was born deaf into a hearing family who spoke Punjabi as their family language. Despite being profoundly deaf, I learnt to speak ‘normally’ and it wasn’t until I started nursery just before primary school that people began to suspect, as I sometimes struggled in group situations.

I started primary school and was assessed there, given various hearing tests etc and finally my deafness was confirmed. My family were recommended to send me to Birkdale School in Southport, a residential school for deaf children. My parents refused, leading to an argument between the authorities who believed I would not cope in mainstream education, and my dad, who believed I would, and furthermore didn’t want his daughter to be away from the family.

My dad won. I was allowed a six month trial at the primary school with hearing aids and had no difficulty there in any aspect of life, as long as things were made accessible i.e. the teacher looked at me when she spoke to me, children were also reminded of this, the class sat in a circle during group discussions etc. I continued to attend mainstream primary school and I look back on it as a happy time, I was bullied a little but beyond petty name calling and the inevitable ‘what’s them things in yer ears, why have you got them?’ I think the teachers were very mindful of what could happen to me and took measures to prevent it.

I took my 11+ exam at the age of 10 and passed, meaning that my secondary school was also mainstream. I had a bit of a wobbly start as I wasn’t used to having to lipread so many different teachers in one day, and some of the teachers weren’t very deaf aware and I wasn’t able to explain things to them, but once I spoke to my wonderful teacher of the deaf the staff were sent on a deaf awareness course and things began to improve.

I went on to the sixth form centre at the same school and achieved 9 GCSE’s and 4 A-levels.

All this time I never signed, and although I wondered about it, I was never really given the opportunity to learn. It was more or less accepted that I did well lipreading. Despite the fatigue, I often felt I accepted it too. I dreamt of teaching but was told by a careers advisor that as I couldn’t hear, controlling a classroom situation would be next to impossible. I vented my frustration by writing creatively, something I’d always done and found useful.

I started Derby University in 1995, reading Media studies. Everyone thought it was an odd choice for a deaf person but I was determined at that time, that if I couldn’t be a teacher, to become a journalist or a writer. I’d had some poems and articles published and enjoyed writing very much. I still do and I am working on a book at the moment. I graduated with a 2:2, which was hard won, but was disappointed by my university experience because so little was accessible for deaf people and I still didn’t have the confidence or ability to explain what I needed and why. I struggled in lectures with a radio aid and seminars were next to impossible. I was given a note taker which really helped but for the first time, I began to wish I knew how to sign as the deaf friends I made had interpreters which really seemed to open things out for them.

After University I travelled to Dublin and found work in a bank, where many other deaf people worked. I began to learn ISL, and joined a drama society, toured Ireland acting in stage productions and generally enjoyed myself for a year!

img003Eventually I decided I didn’t want a career in banking so I returned to England. Around this time I became quite depressed and was granted incapacity benefit. I turned to the arts scene in Manchester and through that, was put in contact with Common Ground Sign Dance Theatre. I took part in several deaf -led, issue -based arts events and began to learn BSL seriously.

In 2001 I began work as a project co-ordinator for a training organisation for people with learning disabilities and uncovered a desire to teach. I began to realise that there are ways of controlling classroom situations that don’t rely on being hearing, and I based my thesis on this when I then went on to study for a Post Graduate Certificate in Education. I immensely enjoyed this and I began to think about combining my love of teaching with my love of BSL. I had finally discovered what I wanted to do with my life! I went on to teach BSL, deaf awareness, deaf blind awareness and disability awareness for another company, delivering training all over the UK.

At around this time I also met my husband, and we married in 2006. He was (and still is) hearing and signs to a high level, working as a support worker/interpreter for deaf students at a FE/HE college in Lancashire. Our daughter arrived in 2008 and our son was born in 2012. Both children are hearing and we signed with them from a very early age. We are convinced this has helped them in other areas of understanding and vocabulary, and our daughter has just achieved her BSL 101 certificate at the age of 5. She attends the same primary school I did and is happy there.

In 2008 I began working at Huddersfield University as a teacher of the D/deaf, and loved using my sign skills to work with degree students to translate BSL to written English. I still support students there, as well as at UCLan. I’ve also achieved the BSL NVQ level 3 and am working towards the NVQ level 6.

In 2010, following my father’s death, I realised just how much I owe him for his determination that I be given a chance to remain in mainstream school, and that I should be given appropriate support. He often nagged me to set up my own business, but I had been unsure. I decided to give it a go as I wanted to work around my family and so later that year I began teaching level 1 BSL privately after placing a few adverts in local papers.

I began teaching the level 2 in 2011, again privately, and in 2012 started teaching classes in Greater Manchester. Now in 2013 I have 4 classes, work at UCLan and also work with families with children who have been born deaf, teaching sign, good communication practice, how to explain to teachers and support workers what is needed, and I hope, the realisation that being deaf doesn’t have to be an obstacle to achievement. I plan to offer BSL Level 3 NVQ from January 2014, and look forward to this challenge.

Yes, I know, I must be mad!

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