John, 22, is a learning support assistant in a further education college. His job involves assisting all kinds of students with basic literacy and numeracy, but a large portion of it includes helping students with particular needs, such as those in a wheelchair or those who are deaf or blind. The students are often doing very practical courses such as carpentry or hairdressing and need to be able to understand basic commands. Each group of students have very particular needs and deaf students are no different in this respect. Here, John tells his story.
“I had done a lot of youth work both in my church and with younger pupils at my school before I graduated and got the job in this college,” John explains. “But it is a completely different challenge to work with students who have individual needs, such as deaf people, as the support I give them has to be so wholly tailored to them.”
But he says that the rewards which come from helping such students are worth any amount of hard work he has to put in. “Helping a student to achieve their potential, despite a disability, well, there’s nothing that can come close to that feeling,” he says. “Deaf students can often feel frustrated, as they miss out on a lot of what is happening around them. It’s not that people deliberately ignore them, but people can often forget to slow down and make sure they have got everything which is being said to them, by lecturers and by their fellow students. It’s my job to make sure that this doesn’t happen.”
But not knowing sign language – does that not hinder John’s ability to help others? “It could do, if you let it, and of course, there is a basic barrier to communication without sign language,” he says. “But I am learning it and even the very basics do help us to communicate. But really, I am there to support the student, not translate everything. My help includes making sure they understand what is being said to them. In a one-on-one situation, this is not too difficult, it is when a lecturer is speaking to a whole class that it becomes more difficult. But by writing things down and showing them what the teacher is referring to in class, it becomes less difficult for them to hear the messages.”
“I don’t expect any thanks from the students I help,” says John. “Why should I? It’s my job and the students deserve someone looking out for them. But that doesn’t mean that they don’t show how grateful they are, in numerous ways.” He says that the rewards come in seeing a student achieve what they set out to do, but the students themselves cannot help but thank him. “They tell me how great it is to have someone who takes a little time with them, just to ensure everything has been understood. I think, more than ever in today’s fast paced world, it is too easy for people to forget to slow things down. It’s my job to do that – it’s as simple as that. It doesn’t take any special skills, but I can’t imagine a job that’s as fulfilling as mine in any other way.”