Secret life

“I have a model eye and Snellen chart in the classroom”

Manchester-based locum optometrist, Shaneela Joshi, tells OT  about shaping the next generation as a teacher


I have been an optometrist since 2005 but I have always been really interested in education. I see it as something that can bridge socioeconomic divides. Education is a tool for progress.

I was in a good job as an optometrist and a lot of people would say to me ‘why are you going into teaching?’ But I didn’t want to regret not taking that opportunity, when it was something that had been niggling me for ages.

Sometimes I felt during my training year that I was muddling through the day and I had made the wrong decision. Teach First puts you into the classroom, basically from day one, with a little bit of training. It aims to build up your resilience. When you get to the end of the year and the kids hang around to say, ‘Thank you for helping me,’ you can see the difference you have made. It was worth it.

I teach within a Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service unit, where there are a range of needs across the class. I do work in a smaller environment, so you can tailor your teaching to the pupils. When I teach my students about the eye, I have brought in some of my equipment. I have a model eye and a Snellen chart in the classroom, and I use a pen torch to teach the reflex arc.

The two professions interplay with one another. After training as a teacher, I find it easier to test kids when I am working as an optometrist. You have to break down the language in the testing room a lot and when you work as a teacher you realise that even more.

When you get to the end of the year and the kids hang around to say, ‘Thank you for helping me,’ you can see the difference you have made


It has also helped me to understand their level of learning and reading. If a parent comes in and says they have concerns about their child’s vision because they are holding a book too close, for example, I think I am better at identifying whether that is an educational need or whether that is a visual need. At the moment I am doing further studies in dyslexia, which I hope will strengthen my role both as an optometrist and teacher.

As an optometrist my locum work has been on hold following the coronavirus (COVID-19) emergency, so I have more days at home which I invest into my own learning, whether that be CET or CPD courses to develop my teaching skill set. Although there has been a national closure of schools, I am still teaching since the unit where I work caters for a vulnerable group. We provide a routine in the day, which I think is essential in managing mental health during these unprecedented times.

• As told to Selina Powell