By James Somper
It’s traditional for pupils to buy their teacher a thank-you gift at the end of the school year – but pupils at this school may find their teacher prefers a tummy-tickle.
Lucky schoolboys at Moulsford Preparatory School in Wallingford, Oxford, count Cocker Spaniel Jovi as one of their favourite teachers – after the school agreed to take him on alongside deaf owner, teacher Graham Sage.
Mr Sage, 29, has been slowly going deaf since adolescence, but was determined not to allow his condition get in the way of his dream of teaching.
And thanks to Jovi, who takes his place at his master’s side at the start of every lesson in his year 4 class, he has fulfilled his dream.
The faithful hound will alert Mr Sage with a tap if a pupil raises their hand when his back is turned, and also lets him known when timers go off if he sets the class timed work.
Luckily for the pupils, he is also on hand to let Mr Sage know when the school bell has rung.
Mr Sage said: “I am very lucky because my employer and colleagues are all fantastically supportive, and Jovi’s presence has greatly increased everyone’s awareness of my deafness. The pupils are great in class and have learnt to be clearer in their communication.
“After a few years teaching, my hearing as a problem was probably more difficult than it should have been.
“There were occasions when the fire alarm would go off in a lesson and I couldn’t hear it.
“But now, Jovi comes into all of my classrooms. The boys love it, they always take a chance to go over to him and stroke him and even say goodbye to him at the end of the day.
“I use him for classroom timers if I want to give the boys timed work, when the timer goes off he alerts me and also helps me with the fire alarms.
“If a sound occurs that I need to know about he springs into action.
“My job would definitely be a lot harder without him. He’s very placid and likes to sleep a lot, he’s always keen to do whatever you ask him to.”
Mr Sage and wife Anna, 29, made contact Hearing Dogs for Deaf People, a national charity that trains dogs to alert deaf people to important and life-saving sounds and provide valuable emotional support and companionship. He was eventually matched with hearing dog Jovi, a cocker spaniel.
A hearing dog is trained to alert deaf people to certain sounds and alert their partner by nudging them. In instances of danger the dog will lay down, ensuring that they won’t lead their partner to danger.
Mr Sage added: “I started to recognise the loss of my hearing when I went to university but probably started going deaf about the age of 15 or 16.
“At university it was difficult to hear anything if I wasn’t in the front row I couldn’t hear anything.
“Having hearing loss can be pretty scary. I have always had a fear that if my house was being broken into, I wouldn’t hear it. I would be quite on edge and would keep checking that the doors were locked.
“Not only does Jovi make me feel safer, he has helped me to overcome some of my anxieties around interacting with other people, and his presence actually encourages interaction. I have had so many people come up to me and ask questions about him. When people find out he is my hearing dog they start to ask more questions, which has made me far more accepting, and even proud, of my hearing loss.
“Communication at home could be quite difficult at times, as my wife Anna could struggle to get my attention. Now, thanks to Jovi’s amazing abilities, Anna can call him and ask him to ‘Go get Graham!’ and he’ll come and alert me and take me to her.
At Moulsford where Graham teachers a class, Jovi is a firm favourite among pupils and helps Graham teach his classes.
Graham Said: “He helps me predominantly at home with things like the doorbell, telephone, cooker or alarm and just anything indoors.
“Looking to the future, if my wife and I were to start a family, it is comforting to know that Jovi can be trained to alert me to a baby’s cry and will add to the safety and security of the household.
“Jovi helps me to lead a ‘normal’ life and I’m so thankful to him for that.”
David Robson, from Hearing Dogs for Deaf People, said: “Jovi not only helps Graham on a daily basis by alerting him to sounds, but he also provides emotional support and companionship, which is really important as hearing loss can cause people to feel isolated.
“Not only that, Jovi gives a visibility to Graham’s deafness which can make things easier for Graham when he’s interacting with others.
“Moulsford Preparatory School has done fantastic things to fundraise for Hearing Dogs. This will directly help us to train more dogs that will change the lives of deaf people, so we are incredibly thankful to the staff, pupils and their families.”
Head teacher Ben Beardmore-Gray said: “We are delighted to have Jovi at the heart of Moulsford Prep School and can see the incredible support he gives Graham, allowing him to fulfil his teaching role. Jovi is extremely popular with the boys and his relationship with Graham has provided the whole school community with a real sense of purpose and inspiration, leading to £20,000 being raised for Hearing Dogs for Deaf People.”