Gerry Verbrugge

Gerry VerbruggeMy son was born in October 1979 and I resigned from my post as a housing officer. After some months of being at home with my baby, I wanted to secure part-time employment.

I was a qualified teacher and applied for a part-time position working with children with learning difficulties. This application was successful and I started working two and a half days a week.

It was initially easy to secure childcare as my wonderful next door neighbour agreed to look after my nearly one-year-old son, however, things became more challenging when this friend gained full-time employment.

Balancing Act

My son experienced quite a lot of sickness and my parents often travelled from Newcastle to Leeds to help look after him while I went to work. My husband was working as a Warehouse Manager for an electrical goods distributor. He agreed that he should do his share of staying home with a poorly toddler but always advised the firm that he was ill himself. Work culture for men in the 1980’s made it impossible for him to take any form of parental leave.

Diversifying my teaching experience

After about one year of working half the week, the head teacher decided that she would prefer it if I worked every morning. I found this to be a harsh, discriminatory decision and asked my union rep to act on my behalf but eventually had to comply with the change.

To diversify my teaching experience I later obtained an additional job at a continuing education centre for adults with learning difficulties. The new post was some 14 miles away from the school and I needed to travel between the two in my lunch hour. The fact that I had not passed my driving test when I accepted the additional post was a tad problematic.

The head teacher at my morning school job tried to prevent me from accepting the role and this time with help from the union I succeeded in pushing forward.

After 5 attempts I passed my driving test and found myself teaching children in the morning and adults in the afternoon and then a 10 mile, 30-minute dash to pick up my son from school!

Role Swap

Years later, my husband was very unhappy with his job and we decided that he should work part-time as he was also a qualified teacher and that I would seek a full-time position. I drew a ten-mile ring around my son’s primary school and applied for positions in special schools within that circle.

I became a full-time teacher in a special school. I dropped my son off at school in the morning and used a childminder for after-school care. This worked fairly well but, in common with others, it was challenged when my son was ill. I used to leave him in bed and travel the ten miles home to check on him in my lunchtime. I felt such guilt about this but learnt in later years that my son really enjoyed his arrangement, particularly the comics I turned up with.

Visual impairment became my specialism

I left my position as a class teacher to become an advisory teacher for children with a visual impairment. This involved moving down an increment while I undertook an intensive two-year distance learning course with Birmingham University. The plus side involved avoiding the politics of a small school and avoiding the constant lifting that had damaged my back.

My experience as a teacher for children with severe, profound and multiple learning difficulties gave me the necessary background to assess the functional vision of children with very early communication skills. This was in the mid-1990s and until then children with complex needs who had visual impairment did not receive specialist support. A large percentage of children with cerebral palsy experienced visual difficulties and, besides the usual eye conditions, had varying degrees of difficulty in processing the information that their brain received. Helping children with cerebral visual impairment became my specialism.