Describe your job in couple of sentences:
I specialise in teaching kids who are neurodiverse. This means their brains are wired differently so they need to be taught in a way that suits them. I write about issues that matter to parents and children navigating the school system.
When did you know what you wanted to do?
Quite late. I studied language development and education in Uni, but then went into publishing. Never gave it a second thought until I was almost 40.
Did you go to university, go straight into the workforce or do an apprenticeship?
After getting thrown out of quite a few schools, I made it to Uni. on the back of a well-written application. I studied linguistics, because I love language: grammar, vocabulary, writing, foreign languages, semantics, and cognition. I got a teaching degree because my Dad said linguistics wasn’t a job! I never wanted to teach, I was much more interested in my social life and teaching sounded too responsible.
What was your first job?
My first job was in publishing for a huge New Age book publisher. At my interview, I saw a book on their shelf that I had just read, and that I didn’t like at all. When they asked if I had read their books, I thoroughly trashed this book. They hired me on the spot – because even though I didn’t like it, I could discuss it in great detail: they started me in sales. I flew all over the US selling books about astrology and crystal magic to big bookstore chains. I loved it! The travel, the independence, the niche topic. Eventually I worked in PR and promotions, writing copy. It relates to what I do now because I am very open minded, which helps when you work with all sorts of people. I can explain things which are not common knowledge, which is handy when talking about how the brain works.
Have you done other jobs in your life – if so what were they?
I worked weekend nights as a short order cook and still make very decent hash browns. After publishing, I worked at a book wholesaler in Seattle. When I moved to the UK, I had kids and Mother was my job. When I decided to go back to work, I tried many disparate things: an extra in films (5), foundation in jewellery design at Central St Martins, foundation in psychotherapy, writer. Nothing really moved me until I worked with the first kid who’s brain was wired differently. From then on, I was hooked.
Did they have any influence on what you do now?
Like my experience in publishing, what I still use are the subskills from the job rather than the skills the job appears to develop. I learned patience waiting for filming to begin, and how it feels not to be the star. I was rubbish at jewellery, so that taught me humility in the face of trying something which is not easy for you – great for teaching kids who learn differently. In the psychotherapy course, I learned not to say the first thing that pops in to my head – something I still have to practice. Mostly I learned what I didn’t want to do every day.
How did you find out about your job (how it existed)?
Once I started teaching, and loved it so much, I wanted to be the best at it I could be. I went to graduate school, not necessarily because I needed to, but I have always loved school and when I start something new my particular habit is to start in a classroom. I really wanted to study the brain science of learning and atypical learning. There I learned how one might apply this in a job.
How did you get the job you wanted- steps and process?
I was offered a job teaching on my Masters course before I even finished! From there, every job I have gotten has been through something I did just before. My volunteering job for a literacy charity lead to me working on a DfE grant project. A woman on my MA course pointed me to a school role she was quitting. A parent at that school had a child at another school; that other school hired me. Lecturing for the University gave me the skills I needed to apply for a role looking after dyslexia provision in a chain of schools. Most importantly, almost every child I worked with along the way stayed with me as a private student when I moved on, and that’s how I developed a private practice.
What qualities do you need to have to be successful in your field?
Perceptive – I need to watch carefully what a child produces so I can unpick it into the subskills the task involves, and then support the weak skill which is causing the problems.
Open minded – I need to see the work being produced in that moment, and not prejudge what I think will be written based on what a kid did the week before.
Honest – Kids know when their work is strong or weak, it does no one any favours to say how wonderful it is that they tried – that’s degrading. Be clear about what is good and what isn’t – how else do you improve?
Authentic – kids have a special radar for who is who they say they are. This goes for your work too: actually be able to help if you say you can! Both of these earn respect and trust – then you’re off.
Give 3 tips for someone hoping to follow in your footsteps:
If you love school, teach. You have the skills already.
Try everything. Not everyone knows what they want to do from the get go.
Don’t work with kids unless you really love kids. They can feel it
Who inspires you?
Dr Fred Rogers – he listened and so kids talked
Dr Carl Rogers – he came to every situation with a generous interpretation