My Experience as an Neurodivergent student teacher
Catrina Lowri is the founder of Neuroteachers and a neurodivergent teacher, trainer, and coach. As well as having 22 years experience of working in education, she also speaks as a dyslexic and bipolar woman, who had her own unique
journey through the education system.
I hid my Neurodiversity in my professional life for many years, and here is why. Student days. When I first started teaching, back in the 90’s, I had never met another neurodivergent teacher. I declared my dyslexia on my PGCE. The course tutor had no idea what to do with the information and told me, if I wanted to learn about Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND), I needed to take extra courses. Our only training on SEND was half a day of project work where we produced materials to support different ‘needs’, then shared them amongst ourselves. As I thought this was inadequate, I offered to give a half hour talk about my dyslexia. Attendance was voluntary. Only half the cohort turned up .
Afterwards, another student commented that “Dyslexia is a class issue. If you are working class, you are thick’ and then he pointed at me “But if you are middle class your ‘dyslexic’”. He made air quotes and rolled his eyes. Not the reception I’d been hoping for. After that, I stayed quiet about my dyslexia.
My first Manic Episode
I had a car serious crash at the start of my third teaching practice. My car flipped and rolled onto its side. My passenger, and I had to escape through the sunroof. Luckily, I was driving a second-hand Volvo. Both of us escaped without a scratch.
I stood on the pavement, watching emergency services deal with the debris and seeing to the driver, whose car hit me, (and escaped with only cuts and bruises). I had an overwhelming feeling that I must be special to survive such a terrible accident.
I remember telling the paramedic that I was fine and “Didn’t even skag my tights!’, and then giggling hysterically I started to stay up late, writing down my brilliant ideas. I wasn’t sleeping and was hallucinating. Although I was still going into my placement school, my lessons went on tangents, and I swung between excitement and irritation. I was sent home until I’d seen a doctor, but they put me on the wrong medication.
As a quick caveat, I am not anti-medication. Medicine can save lives, but I was given SSRI’s (selective, serotonin, reuptake inhibitors) without a full assessment. My doctor didn’t know that I was bipolar. I had no diagnosis. SSRIs can trigger manic episodes in some people, and that is what happened to me.
Surviving the accident ‘proved’ to my manic brain, I was impervious to metal. I stopped looking when I crossed the road and started taking other risks. One day and I nearly got hit by a car. Fortunately, my erratic behaviour was witnessed by a medical receptionist on her way back to work. She persuaded me to speak to a doctor, who assessed my need as acute
and found me a bed in a secure ward.
I was in hospital for 2 weeks, then a day patient for a further 6. I had to re sit my final teaching practice.
I started masking whilst re-sitting teaching practice (TP) at a lovely inner city secondary school in the North of England. I did much better because I was no longer manic. I also moved to a tiny house on the edge of the moors, and lived alone, far from distractions. This had two advantages; I couldn’t afford to go out, and I had no one to go out with, so I worked and slept.
Occasionally my ND got exposed; I’d make spelling mistakes, or misunderstood what my mentor wanted because of my auditory processing difference. Generally, no one noticed. I kept my bipolar at bay by going to bed early, then getting into school at the same time as the caretaker, so I could have some headspace. Then my tutor came in to observe me. “You seem so different to last time I observed you. What happened?” I had lied to him. I told him the reason I went to hospital was due to physical injury caused by the crash, and, that missed some of my TP because I was ‘a bit anxious’. I didn’t tell him about the suicidal ideation or being impervious to metal. I felt like if I said this, he would say I shouldn’t work with children. I love my work, so I stayed quiet.
I passed the course.
I’m not proud of lying, but I did what so many ND people do to get through life. We mask. Because we will have to until the world changes to accommodate us.