East Devon teaching assistant’s 25-year dedication to deaf children is recognised

A deaf teaching assistant from East Devon who has been nominated for an industry award is being celebrated for her 25 years of service to the profession.

Mum-of-two Nikki James, who lives near Ottery St Mary, has been deaf from birth and dedicated her life to helping children through her work at the Deaf Academy, based in Exmouth.

Nikki, a former pupil at the Royal School for the Deaf, in Exeter – now the Deaf Academy- has been shortlisted for a Tes School award in the Teaching Assistant category.

During her time as a teaching assistant, Nikki has been a positive role model for deaf youngsters, encouraging them to aim high.

And she holds sign language classes for parents in a bid to help them communicate with their children.

Sylvan Dewing, Deaf Academy principal, said: “We’re incredibly proud of Nikki and grateful for everything that she does for our students and their families.

“She is such a strong role model for our students and the support she gives is totally authentic, as it comes from her own experience.

Our families are also so grateful, many of whom are moved to tears through the support she gives as they are able to communicate with their deaf children, some for the first time in their lives.”

East Devon

Nikki James, right, with one of scores of pupils she has inspired over her 25-year service as a teaching assistant.
Photo: Deaf Academy.

Nikki’s own parents and two sisters were hearing. Her family did not treat her deafness as a barrier, and for a while she attended a mainstream school.

She said joining the Deaf Academy as a teenager, where everyone communicated through sign language, was initially ‘a shock’.

The East Devon mum said: “It wasn’t easy at first, coming from a hearing world to a community where everyone signed. But if I hadn’t been dropped into the deep end with this experience then I would never be where I am today.”

She added: “When I was younger people would always treat deafness as a disability and would coddle children, not giving them the independence that they needed to grow and succeed.

“This is another barrier deaf children have faced which is why I encourage children every day to meet new targets and try new things.”

Nikki said the secret of her success as a teaching assistant was to tailor her method to each child’s need.

“Every child blossoms in their own time,” said Nikki. “We’re still learning every day, even as we get older. Which is why it’s so important to explore and nurture every deaf child by tailoring your teaching methods to best support that child’s needs.”

Nikki uses her personal life experience to help her students and their families.

She has created social media sign language video lessons, and the keen reader has developed the academy’s British Sign Language (BSL) library to make books more accessible to deaf students.

And Nikki holds weekly sign language classes and weekends for families, teaching them to communicate with their children.

She understands first-hand about the importance of communication, through growing up in a hearing family who did not sign because at the time it was not encouraged.

Nikki said: “Many signing courses aren’t tailored to the specific signs that would be used in the family home.

“Parents can be upset, feel like failures or feel isolated because they can’t communicate with their children.

“BSL courses can be expensive, and I believe parents shouldn’t have to pay to learn how to communicate with their children.

“That’s why we have a parents’ group where I teach parents specific signs, bit by bit so they can communicate in their home.

“I give so much support for parents that come to learn to sign with us, because they believe in their child, and they want to communicate with them and that’s so important.”

She added: “It’s all about sharing communication, I want children to feel safe with their parents, find that bond and communicate. We’re here to support those parents. To support that family life.”

Nikki has dedicated her life to the education of deaf children after she was inspired by her own experiences, and friends, in the deaf and hearing community.

When she spotted the barriers faced by deaf children from an early age it motivated her to return to the Deaf Academy to work as a teaching assistant.

East Devon residents can still claim £150 cost-of-living council tax energy rebate in second wave of payouts

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