Dear Fellow Neurodivergent Teacher

A Letter to my Neurodivergent Colleague

a letter to my fellow neurodivergent teachers

I’m so glad to connect with you! When I first started teaching, 23 years ago I thought I was the only one. I certainly didn’t know anyone else in the trade that was dyslexic and bipolar. For the first 17 years of my career, I never met a single “out” neurodivergent teacher. These things weren’t talked about. There was an unwritten rule that, should you declare any kind of neuro difference it would definitely affect your career.

Now, statistically speaking we know there must be plenty of neurodivergent teachers and support staff. One estimate by the ADHD foundation says that up to 20% of the population are neurodivergent. This would include a range of conditions including common needs such as dyslexia, dyscalculia, ADHD, autism and dyspraxia. Genetic mental health conditions such as bipolar and schizophrenia and acquired brain injury are also types of neurodivergence. When you consider the range of conditions, and how it’s very likely that you have friends or family members who have one or more of these conditions, it seems certain that they would also occur amongst school staff.

There are also many reasons why a neurodivergent person may be attracted to teaching.

Classroom teaching, especially in reception and early years is constantly busy and you’re always on your feet with lots of changes going on. This seems perfect for an ADHDer who could use their amazing hyper focus and ability to multitask to great strengths in this environment. Likewise, the dyslexic teacher has that fantastic helicopter view and can have a full picture of what’s going on within the classroom. They use their creativity to think of different ways to present information and material to a range of learners. Moreover, if you have an intense special interest, such as many of our autistic colleagues do, why not spend several hours a day talking passionately and enthusiastically about this topic to inspire the next generation? Yes, neurodivergence amongst the teaching profession makes perfect sense! Indeed we (neurodivergent teachers and support staff) have a lot to offer.

Dear Colleague, we both have a lot in common. We are both members of the profession where neurological differences are not often celebrated, and yet we chose to be here. We have both, I am certain, felt isolated at times. Wishing we had a kindred spirit so that, if nothing else, we could hear a colleague say “yes, me too”. Why then, has it taken such a long time for you and me to connect?

neurodivergent teacher

My own story is that for many years I did a fantastic job of masking my ND. Mainly because of my shame. I had been conditioned to believe that my dyslexia and bipolar brought with them nothing but weakness and disorder. Why then would I admit this difference to colleagues? I suspect many ND colleagues feel the same. The constant scrutiny in teaching is hard enough without other members of staff peeking over your shoulder to see whether you’ve made a spelling mistake, or checking in with you every few minutes just to make sure you haven’t gone a bit mad. So I kept my ND to myself. Until it became simply too difficult to carry on wearing the mask.

I was terrified when the mask slipped and yes, it did affect my career. I must be honest with you about that. Declaring you’re neurodivergence openly and proudly will not be easy. Though it will make your life a lot simpler. You will no longer have to hide who you are, but you will have to deal with uninformed opinion from peers and parents who believe your ND make you unfit to do the job.

Please know that I’m with you. There are more of us than you may think. A growing number of organisations such as the ADHD foundation, British Dyslexia Foundation and Neurodivergent Teachers Network are taking an interest in neurodiverse educators. Unions can be brilliant too.

On a personal level I wanted to thank you. The more of us there are visible, the more likely it is that we can generate an environment of true inclusion. A school that is truly inclusive for it’s ND staff, will become inclusive for ND children. In talking openly about our ND we can truly make a difference to the education system. Thank you so much for your honesty, and for being your authentic self.

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