The reason I’m writing this blog post is very simple; I searched for the answer to this very question myself about seven years ago.
The short answer is yes. The lovely people over at Epilepsy Action state as much and give some advice on the legal aspects of that, such as the fact that any employer (or university) which rejects you on the basis that you have epilepsy is likely committing disability discrimination. Of course, there are a few caveats to that answer.
Before you can get a realistic answer on whether or not you could become a teacher you need to ask yourself a few questions.
1. How often do you have seizures?
This is a huge factor in making any decision. When I first started teaching I had relatively few seizures. The amount I have now is way higher. As such, I have had to get a lot of support in place to be able to do my job (more on that later). If you’re having a lot of seizures (like daily) then this might not be the perfect line of work for you. Schools can make ‘reasonable adjustments’ but you have to remember they have to be just that; reasonable. It’s not all that realistic to expect a school to cover you every single day .
2. What sort of things trigger your seizures?
This can be pretty important. I love teaching, it’s the best job in the world, but it is still pretty demanding. If your seizures are triggered or worsened by things like stress, overworking, lack of sleep or anything similar then you should consider this carefully. I’m not saying avoid teaching, only that you will need to take care over your wellbeing, find the best ways to do things and look seriously at the different ways to become a teacher. I completed a PGCE at level 7. If I was doing it again now, I’m not sure I could manage the workload with my current level of health, but there are other ways of getting into teaching!
3. What is the severity of your seizures and how much recovery time do you need?
This comes back to the ‘reasonable adjustments’ part. If you have partial seizures, it might not take as much to adjust for you as if you have tonic-clonic for example. I have both. I still teach. So it can be done, but it is certainly more difficult with certain kinds of seizure, and let me just stress now that I am VERY lucky to be at the school I am at with how understanding they were when I was off work for almost a year due to heightened seizures and huge recovery times.
My advice here is,speak to your neurologist or epilepsy nurse.
4. Do you have a care plan in place?
My advice here is speak to your neurologist or epilepsy nurse. My neurologist at the time I started a PGCE helped ease my universities concerns and I worked with the disability support section of the university to draw up a care plan I could use for school placements.
It is possible, and advisable, to try to get something in place before you start applying for any teaching courses or training.
In my current job, my epilepsy nurse was more than happy to work with the school to help get a care plan in place that worked for both me and the school.
Ok, so, if you’re still reading now then there’s a good chance you feel like you could still manage in teaching. Good. Next, here’s some ideas of things you could look in to which may help you to get into teaching more easily or might help support you when you’re teaching:
Support workers – A government scheme called ‘Access To Work’ (ATW) is the starting point here. They will assess your needs if you feel your epilepsy could hinder your opportunities in teaching. When I started, I needed no help. Now, I have a support worker who comes into school in the afternoons when I am more prone to seizures. My support worker helps by putting up displays that are high up (I’m not allowed to use ladders), recapping me on lessons if I have a seizure and helping me recover safely.
Help with travel – You are likely entitled to a free bus pass and 1/3 off rail costs if you are not eligible to drive because of your epilepsy. You may also find that ATW are willing to pay for additional costs of travel if they arise (e.g. if you live in an area where there are no bus routes and you need taxis), it’s worth asking!
Plan your ‘safe seizure’ strategy WITH the children you teach! – This is my number 1 recommendation for anyone starting teaching who has epilepsy. In my experience, adults are far more likely to worry about your seizures than children are. When I tell teaching assistants I have epilepsy they tend to react with worry (‘what do I do if you have a seizure? I’ll just panic!’ etc), but children tend to be brilliant about it. Children take things in their stride and are usually amazingly resilient when dealing with things like this. I was incredibly nervous about telling a room full of children I had epilepsy for the first time. I told year 3/4. They were amazing. They came up with their own ideas of what they might do. By the end of the discussion we had planned that if I had a seizure, the class would return to their seats (so they were all safe) and that 2 children would take a card stuck to the door to the nearest adult (if there was not another adult in the room), this card would simply inform the adult that I needed help. In short, the children were brilliant, they planned a perfect way of dealing with any seizure I might have, and not one of them was anxious about it. The year 3/4 children I spoke to asked a few questions, and some of them chose to research it further for themselves.
Since then, I have told a year 1 class the same information. I have had seizures when working with this class of children aged 5-6 years old. It has not bothered them at all. I feel a little awkward about it, but the children I teach are supportive, kind and wonderful. I need never have worried.
Hopefully this is of some use to at least some people. I am always open to helping and supporting anyone interested in getting into teaching, whether they have epilepsy or not. If you have read this and still have any questions, please feel free to ask! Comment below or contact me via Twitter.