Deaf school tutor only Scot up for UK award

Aileen Mullen, shortlisted for the TES Inspirational Teacher of the Year award, with one of her students. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
Aileen Mullen, shortlisted for the TES Inspirational Teacher of the Year award, with one of her students. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
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SHE has helped dozens of Scotland’s most vulnerable children at our national deaf school – and now she can lay claim to being the country’s most inspiring teacher.

Artist Aileen Mullen, who works with pupils at Donaldson’s School in Linlithgow, has been shortlisted in the Inspirational Teacher of the Year category at a UK-wide awards.

The only Scottish teacher to be recognised, Ms Mullen, 55, said news of the shortlisting by a panel at the TES School Awards left her “speechless”.

And she stressed her success was not due to any secret formula – just lots of hard work and dedication.

“I try to make everything fun,” she said. “I always make sure that the kids pick something that they’re interested in. If a child has a particular interest, I will stick that into the curriculum to suit that child. Each child who comes into the classroom has completely different needs and abilities.”

Ms Mullen, originally from Glasgow, joined Donaldson’s on probation in 2008, learned British Sign Language and went on to hone her craft as a teacher.

She said one of the biggest challenges was helping pupils who are deaf or have hearing difficulties overcome significant confidence barriers and realise their talents. But the hard work has paid off – her pupils regularly come top in competitions in which they are often pitted against counterparts from mainstream schools.

Three of her pupils have had their work hung in the Scottish National Gallery as part of the Tesco Bank Art exhibition – from a total entry of 11,222 – and five emerged as winners in the Royal Hospital for Sick Children’s Art Competition.

She said: “In the classroom there’s a mixture of children who are deaf, or maybe they can hear but have specific problems, or have Asperger’s.

“I think a lot of them lack confidence and it’s just bringing that out of them and inspiring them. Every year I enter them into competitions and they think they’re rubbish and can’t do it – when they’re up on the stage getting their awards, you just see their faces light up.

“I’m just constantly encouraging them and praising them, and would never give them things I know they wouldn’t be capable of accomplishing.”

Ms Mullen’s success has been hailed by leaders at Donaldson’s, who noted that the teacher had received glowing reports from inspectors.

Margaret Burnell, interim principal, said: “Both HMIe and SQA have commended this good practice and have graded Aileen’s skills as excellent.

“Her original ideas and creative ability inspires the children and young people and their work contributes to the bright, colourful and motivating atmosphere of the school.”

She added: “Aileen is truly inspirational and there is no doubt that she deserves this recognition. We wish her every success when the awards are announced in July.”