I have met some truly inspiring people who have shown me kindness; given me the strength to carry on; and believed in me, when I never did. I am forever grateful to them for giving me the encouragement to share my story – Thank you.
I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. Born and raised on a very deprived council estate in Leicester; I was the eldest of four siblings. My mum did not work and my dad was a cleaner. I helped my parents with my siblings; I never considered education to be a priority – and had very little aspiration in life. I never attended school very often which impacted on my grades. I left secondary schools with no GCSEs. I managed to gain a place on a BTEC Level 2 Media course and then proceeded onto Level 3. The thought of me going to university never existed. I didn’t know anyone that had ever been to University and none of my family had ever been. I didn’t think I was, ‘what a student should be’.
I met my partner at seventeen and was pregnant by the age of nineteen. Someone once said, ‘That’s your life over’. This is when everything changed. I changed. My daughter was my world. The day she was born I made her a promise; I promised her that I would be a mum that she would be proud of – to say, ‘That’s my mum!’. I never saw being a teenage mum as a hindrance on my life. I had been to college, so now I would raise my daughter and then get a job. And that’s what I did.
Deep down in my heart, I had always wanted to work with children. But I never thought that was possible. You see there is a part of my life that I have always tried to hide away, bury and forget. This part of me caused me fear, shame and disgust. From as long as I can remember I was sexually abused by a member of my own family, which went on into my teenage years. I remember coming home from school one day and the police were there. My heart sank; I froze. It turned out my sister had told my mum what was happening to her; I never knew. I finally had the courage to say what had happened to me too. I had family that never spoke to me again after it all came to light and made comments such as, ‘Why would we believe what a child says?’ It ruined my childhood and when people ask why I never gained those GCSEs I would shrug it off and laugh and say it was because I never attended. When I think about what had happened, I can only describe it now as a dull pain that lives inside of me.
When my daughter turned one, I plucked up the courage to go to the local community centre and enquire about a level 2 teaching assistant course. There was a lady at the reception window. I cannot remember her name; she had short blond hair and glasses. I asked her if I could talk to her about the course – if there was a quiet room that we could go to. I followed her down the corridor into a little room. I immediately apologised for wasting her time; she had a warm smile and I felt safe. I explained I wanted to be a teaching assistant and that I met all the course requirements. I waffled on, trying to explain what was holding me back. She stared at me, puzzled. I just stood looking at her thinking this is a big mistake. Before I talked myself out of it, as fast as I could speak – I asked her if what had happened to me would be on my CRB check; are people like me allowed in schools? I was ready to be shot down. I went in with little hope.
It was safe to say I don’t think she was expecting me to say what I did. My heart raced, like never before. Her lips moved but she didn’t speak, and then she had tears in her eyes. She never did speak; she grabbed hold of me and hugged me. She then gathered herself together and said that it was absolutely fine for me to work in schools and went into more detail. Now I look back it sounded silly. But I had never spoken about this to anyone before, let alone a stranger.
I was absolutely delighted with her response. I enrolled on the course that day and started volunteering at a local primary school and soon after landed a job as a teaching assistant. I knew then that working with children was an absolute passion of mine. I later moved on to completing level three teaching assistant qualification and after a few years of being a teaching assistant I realised I wanted to be at the front of the class and that’s when I applied to university. This was also at the same time that I had my second child. I can now say as a mum of two, it is because of them that I found my ambition in life and they gave me the motivation to do more.
September 2015, was the beginning of new things. I left my job and began university. It’s true what they say; it was a life changing experience and I made friendships that will last a life time. I met people of all backgrounds and upbringings and from different walks of life. I always felt I had to justify my place and explain. University had its ups and downs, juggling university commitments and bringing up my children was difficult. During my third year I also had to retake my GCSEs (Maths, English and Science) to enable me to move onto my teacher training. A part of me wishes I could go back to the 16-year-old me and tell her it all works out in the end – not to worry, just pass your GCSEs. My family and friends were really supportive. I think it’s important to have that, especially at low points and I wouldn’t be where I am today without my partner’s continuous support. Graduation was one of the greatest days of my life and it was a privilege to share the day with my children.
I continued academically and progressed onto a teacher training course. It was one of the hardest years of my life and yet the most rewarding. The support I was given was incredible and I had some great opportunities during my placements. I finished my training and also gained a certificate of outstanding achievement from the University. I emailed them to ask if they had made a mistake. I always believed that people like me; teenage mum, off the estate, no links to higher education, slightly damaged could not achieve things like this. Today, I am now known as a year one, primary teacher. Me, a teacher! I still have moments of ‘imposter syndrome’ – waiting for the day someone comes into my class and says “you are not really supposed to be here are you?”
I aspire to be the teacher that I always needed. If I had built that relationship with a teacher, someone I could go to, maybe things would have been different for me growing up. But as I said before, I don’t regret any of my past because it has made me the person I have become today. Every experience I have been through has shaped me into who I am. It has enabled me ensure that every single child in my care believe in themselves and have a sense of belonging and purpose instilled in them. They are all hero’s – my hero’s.
I hope to inspire the children I teach, along with anyone else who thinks they are not enough. If some good comes from sharing my experience, then it makes it all worth it. I want to voice that it doesn’t matter where you come from, where you are right now – it is where you’re going that is relevant. If you want to succeed in life, go for it. Aspiration is vital. We should encourage each other to aspire, to become the best version of ourselves.