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Visually impaired graduate becomes teacher aide

Jackson Ritchie just completed the Certificate III in School-Based Education Support (CHC30221), which allowed him to gain some classroom experience.

Despite being visually impaired, the TAFE Queensland graduate is now using his foundation teaching skills to enhance learning experiences for primary school students of all abilities.

"When I lost my sight eight years ago, some of my teachers didn't know how to help me adjust, and my school excluded me from class and separated me into a section for disabled students," explained Jackson.

"The adjustment can be difficult because your circle of friends shrinks, playing sports is difficult and adjusting to the real world is a huge leap from school – so some students struggle."

After leaving school, Jackson tried his hand at acting. In class one day, he noticed a group were confused with an assignment, so he decided to help and realised his future was in teaching.

"When I helped the group out, I realised that helping others was important to me, and I find that more fun and fulfilling, so I decided to enquire about teacher-based training," he explained.

Finding out more information about the course he was contemplating, Jackson's first question was if he could since he is visually impaired.

"When I went over what was possible with TAFE staff, I realised I could do plenty. Some things are a struggle, but my teacher helped me to work around them to finish my studies."

The more he studied, the more Jackson knew he'd made the right decision, with the course content motivating him to get a deeper understanding of the topic.

"I loved discovering new information I hadn't thought about, like the legal, health, safety and well-being and working with diverse students. Seeing teaching from a different angle gave me more interest in the topic and motivated me to learn."

Helping Jackson were his teachers and the staff at TAFE Queensland's Bracken Ridge campus, who assisted him in settling in and concentrating on his studies.

"The facilities here are pretty good. After getting help to find my area and getting into a routine, I got to the classes and knew where the cafeteria and bathrooms were. Overall, everything was pretty accessible for me," said Jackson.

Now that he's finished studying and is ready to enter the workforce, Jackson says he's relieved but sad his studies are finished.

"I loved working with Julie Jakins; she's one of the greatest teachers I've ever had. She's created an open, welcoming, collaborative class environment, and I felt comfortable attending class."

"Her classes were more practical and not just theory, and you get to put what you learn into the workplace, from get-go and get the chance to work one on one or in groups people."

"We got everything on all the information online so that I could use my laptop and Windows Plus, and I was able to use programs to help me read and do the coursework."

Joining Everton Park State School relief teacher aide, Jackson assists students of all abilities to understand and grow by giving them the tools to help them figure out numeracy and literacy tasks in their own way.

"It's an amazing school. Students with disabilities work alongside other kids, like in the real world. So, the kids learn about their peer's challenges and work with them as a team."

"My role as a teacher aid is to work with the whole class, not just one student, and encourage everyone to join in."

"By explaining the teacher's questions differently and giving them that new perspective, I help students figure out the answers for themselves, which is fulfilling."

"I didn't have a good experience in school, but now I'm qualified and confident that I can include and inspire kids to get great educational outcomes, no matter their ability," concluded Jackson.