Managing disability and employment
What I learned volunteering in the education sector
Volunteering the education sector has given me a great respect for teaching staff. Whilst I had already understood that teaching came with a heavy workload with my mum being a teacher, I had not yet appreciated the unending nature of it. As part of my role I was teaching small group interventions and conducting lunchtime talks about university life and revision. For my group interventions I had to research the topic as I was not familiar with the studies required by the A-level syllabus, and also created sheets to supplement students’ learning. I found that a lot of my time, both inside and outside college, was spent thinking about what I would say, where to find information on topics and creating resources. Using the lesson on behaviourism I taught as an example, I consulted my university textbooks and research journals to provide a nuanced view of the philosophy and its impact on the subject, and in the process of doing so have learned the topic so thoroughly I can recite my lesson to my disinterested parents without any notes. Beyond giving me some ideas as to how to best revise for future exams, this experience has taught me about how I ought to approach employment in the future. I found that whilst this research and preparation was manageable on a 3 days-a-week basis for only a few lessons, I would not be able to cope with teaching as a full-time job.
Accepting my disability and chronic illness has taken me a number of years, and I found that my desire to fulfil my role as perfectly as possible risked me undoing much of the work I had done to take care of myself and not worsen my fatigue. The education sector demands unwavering dedication from teachers and requires them to work through the evening and weekends, which would be difficult and frustrating for anyone, but mixed with my condition would be impossible. I enjoyed my placement greatly, and it was an important step in my ongoing journey with disability and taught me that I need to consider how sustainable certain sectors of employment are for me. With the acceptance that I cannot work every job and maintain the tricky balance that comes with chronic illness, there comes some anxiety surrounding the nature of employment. Whilst not every job will be as demanding as teaching, I do frequently wonder how I will manage in a workplace that is not geared towards flexible working or disabled staff. I have concluded that I will need to trust my friends and family to help me where needed; for example, during my placement my mother’s partner drove me to the 6th form on a morning which helped me reserve some energy and avoid becoming dizzy, and my partner helped me make tea on evenings I was working.