Two weeks down and I’m still alive.
It’s probably the best way I can sum up the first few weeks as an English teacher at Onehunga High School. Ask anyone who is – or has been – a high school teacher, and they’ll tell you the first year is a really tough slog. Learning ~150 new names, school systems and procedures, having students ask “Why should I?” when you ask them to complete homework, and a form class of Year 9 students who look to you for the answers to all their questions are just some of the hurdles I’ve had to overcome in my first few weeks.
That said, it’s been an absolute blast. I have a Year 9 form class, and four English classes, ranging from Year 9 (Form 3) to Year 13 (Form 7), each of which bring their individual challenges and delights. The students at Onehunga High School are real characters, and bring a full dose of personality to each class. This is great for group work and class discussions, but it can also lead to periods of borderline anarchy when it’s last period on a Friday!
The school itself is built on a steep hill, and as such isn’t the most naturally accessible environment. However, the Ministry of Education have really come to the party and funded ramps, an adapted bathroom, and potentially a lift at some point down the track. It’s great to see that using a wheelchair is no barrier to employment in the education sector.
You might be wondering how the students have reacted to my use of a wheelchair in the classroom. Quite honestly, they seem completely non-plussed. None have been rude or disrespectful, and as far as I can tell they don’t treat me any differently to any other teacher. In many ways this is great news, and proves that attitudes towards disability are changing rapidly amongst members of the next generation!
As for anyone who thinks teachers have it easy, you’re welcome to join me in my classroom and give it a go. It won’t be long before you change your mind, trust me!
PS – If you’d like to know more about what it’s like to teach in a high school as a wheelchair user, or if you’re considering a career in education yourself, please feel free to contact me.