Maggie Owens is a Maths teacher who specialises in deaf education. She has been teaching in Holy Family School for the Deaf, a newly amalgamated school since 2016. She started her teaching career in St Mary’s School for the Deaf 18 years ago and is also deaf herself. She explains how she “fell into her current career” but is keen to point out it’s the best thing that ever happened to her and she wouldn’t change it for the world.
“I’m so grateful for how it worked out. I did teacher training in Brunel University in London and at the time I was offered a permanent position in a school over there. However I was a past pupil of St Mary’s and they heard I was doing teacher training and let me know there was a job coming up. But the deadline was the next day so I faxed across my CV. I got an interview and then got the job. Permanent positions in teaching are like gold dust in Ireland so I was very happy when I was finally made permanent in Holy Family School.
“For my leaving cert I did English, Accountancy, Home Economics, History of Art, Biology, History, Geography and Maths of course. I wanted to be an accountant and to work in banking or finance. I loved it in school and applied to Maynooth University to do a BA in Finance which included Economics, Accounting and Maths. I always loved balancing the books but it was so different when I went to college and I actually ended up failing Accountancy in my first year. I considered leaving as I had never failed anything in my life.
“It was very challenging following Accountancy as I had no support for this subject. It’s difficult to have a note-taker for figures and accounts. At the time, I was not competent with an ISL interpreter so I tried different kinds of support such as recording the lectures on a dictaphone and getting someone to type up the notes but this didn’t work out as the turnover in getting the notes was too slow. Then I discovered speed text operator where I have a laptop and the speed text operator has a laptop and she types up what was said in the lecture. It is like watching subtitles on TV! This was fantastic and the best support for her going forward. I studied all summer and repeated my Accountancy exams in the autumn and fortunately passed the exams.
“I then focussed on Economics and Maths and developed a love for Maths. I finished the degree in Maynooth and the access officer asked what I was going to do next. A friend was going to do teaching and they suggested that, but it never occurred to me to think of it as I never thought I’d be good enough, as I held my own deafness against me. I put down my name anyway, had an interview and got accepted to the Brunel University in London.
“My first time teaching a class, I didn’t tell the students I was deaf and there was a lot of messing, whistling and I lost control of the class. My Mentor gave me great advice at that time, they said “Maggie, treat the kids with respect, they are not stupid. If you treat them with respect they will respect you back” The next time I taught I told the class I was deaf when I introduced myself and it was a completely different experience. I could see the kids really trying to enunciate so I could read their lips and understand them. They were brilliant!
“I love the relationship I develop with the kids I’m teaching, seeing them coming in and leaving school confident and ready for the world. This is my dream job, I feel I’m not working. I want the kids to love Maths. A lot of the time kids are put off, they think Maths is boring but it’s not, Maths is in every part our lives: sequencing, patterns, algebra. It’s beautiful. No matter what you look at, if you look into it deeper you will always find Mathematics and I just love being a Maths teacher.
“I would advise anyone to embrace Maths, it is a wonderful world to explore and there are so many career paths you can take after doing Maths. In terms of people who might be deaf and going into a career like this, I would say accept yourself and embrace your deafness. I never thought I’d be able to do this but there are so many supports out there but you need to look for it and ask for it. You also need to try out different supports available such as ISL Interpreter, note taker, speed text and see what support suits you best. The universities aren’t mind readers, you need to let them know so they can prepare. You need to be much better prepared access wise, and if you are someone who is deaf like me, you need to inform the college so they can prepare for your arrival. They have to apply for funding for the assistance needed. Let them know what you need ahead of time and everything will be fine,” she says.