Blind woman closer to teaching goal

The lunchtime bell is approaching but there is no sign of fidgeting, and the willing responses to Lisa Smith's questions about writing a letter to the MP show she was born to teach.

The lunchtime bell is approaching but there is no sign of fidgeting, and the willing responses to Lisa Smith's questions about writing a letter to the MP show she was born to teach.

All eyes are fixed on the lively teaching assistant and no one is paying any attention to Vanity, the black labrador guide dog sitting impassively beside her.

Mrs Smith, described by Naomi Palmer, her acting headteacher at Gorleston's Oriel High School as a “super, positive influence”, began training for the classroom three years ago - 12 years after receiving the bombshell news that she was going blind.

Now she is proud to have been chosen to spearhead The Big Skill - Take a Step campaign to encourage people to boost their career prospects and confidence through learning.

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Launched in January by the Learning and Skills Council, the campaign has involved skills roadshows visiting shopping centres across the region.

Mrs Smith, who lives in Bradwell with her husband Gavin, 41, and son Taylor, 11, had been unaware of her progressive eye disease, retinitis pigmentosa, until she visited an optician to buy sunglasses around the time of her 21st birthday.

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She said: “They noticed something wrong with my retinas and referred me to the James Paget Hospital and that was when I received the bombshell news I was losing my sight. I had lost a lot already and there was no cure.”

The news, which came months before her wedding, was all the more devastating because she loved her job as a driver for a Great Yarmouth garage.

“I passed my driving test at 17 after only five lessons and it was like losing my legs when I was told I would have to surrender my driving licence,” she said.

Mrs Smith, who has been registered blind for seven years and now has only 15pc vision, admitted that after having her son “I sat on my bum and felt sorry for myself for several years”.

“I refused to use a cane and would not go out unless someone took me or when my husband was home from working offshore,” she said.

Her big turnaround came five years ago when she received her dog, Vanity, and gained in confidence from her increased mobility.

“I felt I had been given something and I wanted to put something back. All my family had been teachers and I liked helping at my son's school so it seemed natural to train as a teaching assistant,” she said.

Passing her BTEC course at Great Yarmouth College with flying colours, she has remained at Oriel where she started out on a voluntary placement.

Now full-time and planning to study further to become a teacher, Mrs Smith, who uses a special “talking” computer, said: “I love it and now wish I had started when I left school.”

She hopes that the way she has overcome disability cannot only inspire pupils with challenging backgrounds but also adults forced into a career change for whatever reason.

“The pupils ignore the dog and my disability completely and treat me no differently to any other teacher,” said Mrs Smith, 36, who teaches maths and English to pupils with a range of learning barriers.

“However, if they are reading and get stuck on a word, they know they have to spell out the letters for me so I can tell them what it is.”

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