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I qualified as a teacher in 1971, from Teacher Training College. I don't have a degree. In those days you didn't need a degree to become a teacher. The option to take a B.Ed was only just becoming available, but most people tended to study for this whilst "on the job". I had my teaching certificate, so did not really see the need for yet another piece of paper! EARLY YEARS For five years, I taught in a mainstream class in a mainstream primary school. My experience was mainly with junior classes (ages 7-11). These days, class sizes are being limited. In my first class I had 37 mixed ability 8-9 year olds. In fact, on my final teaching practice, there were 42 mixed ability 7-8 year olds. Classes like this are rare nowadays. Back then, children who had special needs over and above what the school could provide for were usually transferred to a special school. It was rare to find many of these children in an ordinary school. AFTER MY CHILDREN ARRIVED In 1976 my daughter was born, and I had a five year break from teaching, until my son was two. In 1981 I applied for part time teaching work, and was fortunate enough to be offered four afternoons a week, taking groups of children who needed an extra push. These children would be taken from the classroom, and taught separately from the rest of their class. Back then, that was the way it was done. For the next couple of years, I did a bit of supply work, but I think my interest in teaching children with special educational needs had been awakened. Then in 1986, the borough in which I lived allocated extra money to schools to pay for part time teachers to work in schools, concentrating initially on children who were perhaps a little way behind their peers. I was lucky enough to obtain two days a week in my current school, and have been there ever since. HOW IT WORKS When I first began, the emphasis was still somewhat on removing the children from their classes, and teaching them in small groups, concentrating on literacy, with maybe a little numeracy thrown in. Gradually, over the years, this has changed, and nowadays, most of my teaching work is done in the classroom, alongside the class teacher, working with a group of children, so that they are able to access the curriculum the same as their peers, but with some support. The group may not always be the same children. It depends what they are doing. In some classes, it will almost always be the same children. Planning with the class teacher has to be done either during lunch breaks, or after school. In a small school like ours, there is little if any non-contact time, and there is nothing worse than going into a class unprepared. The basic planning is obviously the class teacher's but we need to liase, so that I am not just an appendage in the classroom! I can then prepare the work at a suitable level for the children I work with. INCLUSION Special schools are tending to be phased out, so there are now many more children being included in mainstream schools who, perhaps in the past, would have been in special schools. These children often have statements of special educational needs, which means that they get extra help, paid for by the borough, in order to help them achieve their potential. The amount of time they get varies according to their need. Most of the support they get comes from a classroom assistant, who works alongside that child for the allotted number of hours. Obviously there needs to be liaison between the assistant, the class teacher and the SENco (Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator) in order to use this time to the best advantage. I am all for inclusion. I must say I was sceptical at first, thinking that it might hold some of the other children back if the teacher had to spend an inordinate amount of time supporting just a few children. Having seen it at work, and worked within the system, I find it enriches the lives of all those involved, including the other children. They become attuned to the needs of our special children, and as a result, develop understanding and tolerance of "different ness". It is also good for the special child to see what is going on around him/her. We have one child who, when he arrived at school, seemed to be totally unaware of anything going on around him. Now, he is beginning to interact in his own little way with children and adults alike. It takes time, but it can be so rewarding. Part of the special needs teacher's job is also to formulate individual education targets for the forthcoming term, and review the previous term's targets to see if they have been achieved. This is done between the parents, class teacher and SENco, and if at all possible, including the child as well. QUALIFICATIONS Any qualified teacher can make the transition into special needs teaching. No separate qualifications are needed over and above those needed to become a teacher. However, it does help to attend courses and seminars on various aspects of special needs provision, and to keep abreast of the new developments, as they seem to be constantly changing. The one qualification that is vital in SEN teaching is patience. Most of these children are going to be slow learners. What they learn today, they may well forget tomorrow. They will need countless explanations, and time to assimilate ideas. If you are low on patience, then maybe it would be the wrong career to get into. A sense of humour comes in very handy. Many of our special children have a wicked sense of humour (in the nicest possible way!), and it helps if teacher can laugh with them. Boundaries obviously need to be in place, but the children quickly learn how far they can go. You will also need to be able to get along with other members of staff, and indeed, wit h the parents. Some staff initially, are uncomfortable with another teacher in the room. We are lucky where I work, because basically we all get along most of the time. We have also been quite a stable staff, so that initial wariness has long since gone. I do find that I sometimes forget that I'm in someone else’s classroom, and if I see something going on that I'm not altogether happy with, I will go over and sort it out. I suppose, theoretically I should pass it to the class teacher, but once a teacher, always a teacher! And because we know each other so well, no-one seems to mind. If they do, they're not telling me! There are times when you have to be very diplomatic with the parents too, and on more than one occasion I've had to act as almost a referee between the class teacher and an irate parent! Luckily this doesn't happen often. So diplomacy and tact can be essential qualifications. REWARDS Well first and foremost, if you want financial rewards, forget it! I have almost 30 years experience. If I were working full time, and with outer London weighting, my gross salary would be somewhere around £26,000 per year. I now work 3 days a week, so my earnings are pro rata. Unless I wanted to move to a larger school and take on a head of department post, or become a deputy head, then I can go no higher than that. I am on the maximum. I COULD apply for the threshold payment, but the amount of time it takes to fill in the application and produce the evidence outweighs the financial benefit. The rewards are in job satisfaction. There are times when I wonder what on earth I am doing. There I times when I feel so drained I could fall asleep. But then there are the times when one of my children takes that next little step which makes everything worthwhile. An example of this came just before Christmas. We have a lad on the autistic spectrum who has avoided all eye contact, or failed to comm unicate without prompting. After the Christmas Nativity, I took his particular class back to school, as his teacher had to collect up her musical instruments etc. When we got back to class, he had obviously been doing a picture that he was proud of. In the absence of any other adult, I was the only choice he had! He grabbed my hand, literally dragged me across desktops and pointed proudly, saying "Look". That was the very first word he had ever uttered to me without being directed. I pointed to a "W" on the picture and asked him what it was. "Womble" was the reply. On the face of it, that seems very little in itself. But if you could know this lad, you would know what a huge breakthrough that was. These are the sorts of rewards SEN teaching can bring. WOULD I RECOMMEND IT? This is a tricky one. Teaching as a whole, has changed enormously since I started. The pressures on teachers are enormous, and paperwork has become stupid. Also, I don't have the responsibility of a whole class, although I am obviously aware of the amount of work and effort that goes into it. I think I would have to say that I would not actively encourage anyone to take up teaching unless they had an absolutely burning ambition to do so. It is not the sort of job you can do without total commitment. Well, I suppose you can, but you wouldn't make a very good teacher. As for Special Needs Education: I have found my forte in this. I enjoy what I do (most of the time). When I started out teaching, I wouldn't have foreseen that this would have been the case, but now, I wouldn't go back to mainstream teaching. I do think you need to have the qualities of patience and humour especially. If you lack these, then it isn't the job for you. I also find a lot of people still look on these children as sub-normal in someway, and have even had someone, quite recently, refer to them as "retards ". I am fiercely protective of my special kids. Like a lion defends her cubs, I will defend them and their integrity to the death. Needless to say I saw red! Patience flew out of the window, and a normally mild-mannered me let rip. My kids are special kids. They are not the lowest of the low, or retards, or morons or any of the other names I've heard. They are loving, sweet children who have different needs from the majority. (Get off your soap box Lesley!!) If you are looking to work with Special Needs children, then I hope this has helped in some way. It can be frustrating, exhausting and thankless. But it can be oh so rewarding. Lesley
I am sick and tired of hearing teachers moan, it is the one thing that the profession do really well! I hear them at it in the press and in the staff room, little wonder there is a shortage of new recruits they've all been put off. I am here to say don't be, the job is tough but the rewards are wonderful too! I qualified four years ago now and the training was damn hard work. I had to have a rigorous interview to be selected which included Maths tests, English tests, I.T. tests, a group interview and an individual interview. Somehow I made the last 30 out of over 600 applicants. I had already gained my first degree so completed the Post Graduate Certificate in Education which is a one year course. It was very intense and I felt as though I was thrown into the classroom without any preparation. I was sent to two schools from hell during my training. One was a multicultural school where English was very much the second language. I felt very isolated here as I was totally unable to communicate with most of the children and parents and some of the staff. But somehow I managed and came away with more confidence. The second school was dreadful! From day one I was left in the classroom by myself with 30 highly disruptive kids. The children used to play on the school roof at break time which the staff accepted. They swore and hit the teaching staff and parents often turned up in the classroom drunk and abusive. I used to be physically sick every single day at the thought of going there. The class teacher didn't offer me any support, she was too busy hiding away so she didn't have to teach the little darlings. How I survived all this I will never know. I didn't want to become a teacher any more after my training but thank God I changed my mind. I have worked with special needs children since I was 15 and knew throughout that this was where I belonged. I applied for several jobs and was finally lucky enough to get one at a wonderful school nearby. It is quite unusual for a newly qualified teacher to gain such a position although at the moment schools are desperate for any teachers so always apply if you fancy it. The school where I work is for children with physical and associated learning difficulties. It is a joy to go to work in the morning as the children are such a pleasure to work with. This job is not about entertaining it really is teaching. We follow the National Curriculum as in any school. In fact it is more difficult as you have to adapt it to the children's needs. Often I spend hours making resources so that the children can access the work. Many cannot write and use symbols to record. The teaching goes way beyond the school curriculum, there is also the teaching of indepence targets. I take the children out into the community in the hope that I can teach them to interact as fully as possible. The school day and holidays are exactly the same as in mainstream school. The demands on you are also the same. You still have marking, planning and record keeping. Many people think I am just an entertainer but I am truly an educator. The job is fascinating there is so much to learn. You need to use sign language sometimes and then there is the medical side of things. You have to learn about all the different conditions and the implications that these have on each child. You need to meet the Doctors and medical staff and build up a good relationship. Then there are the Speech Therapists and the Occupational Therapists. Physios, Medical Physics, Social Workers, Psychologists - the list is endless! The children are draining it has to be said. I feel like I am on stage for 5 hours a day performing to the best of my ability to gain their attention and make a break through. Physically it is exhausting too, many children need lifting and toileting. Emotionally you must be strong. For many of these children do not live to see adulthood. Some days I wonder why I am shoving the National Curriculum at them - shouldn't they be out enjoying themselves? But they are enjoying themselves at school - they love it! School gives them a sense of normality to cling to. Laughter is so important otherwise you would get very down in this job. You must not take things too seriously. I have been working on number 1 and 2 for 3 years now with some children and they still can't recognise them. Rather than getting depressed I think of new ways of presenting the work - this is a challenge in itself. Then if it fails I have a little smile before I set myself off again on the mission of teaching. In the last few days in the press I have read criticism of the long holidays given to teachers. From a personal point of view I would not be able to do this job without the breaks. I am totally on my knees by the end of term, there is just no let up in the job at all if you do it properly. I arrive at work at 7:45am and don't leave until 5:00pm. I work through my dinner and don't have any breaks as I supervise the children. This weekend I have worked all Saturday evening writing reports and spent Sunday afternoon planning next weeks lessons. Teaching is with you 24 hours a day! Even at the supermarket I buy juice for the children and biscuits. On shopping trips I spend time looking for resources and always buy them out of my own pocket. I do all this because I love what I do but it does make me angry when I see the bad press teachers get. I study for qualifications in my own time after work. There are endless possibilites for study if that is what you enjoy and they will help you to progress up the career ladder too. I love being with the children. I love teaching them and I love seeing them achieve the smallest of targets. I am very, very lucky to be a teacher and hope you may consider it too. Thanks for reading.
Having graduated as a music teacher, I was expected, like the rest of my year, to start teaching in a mainstream secondary school, perhaps with some time in the mainstream primary sector. Out of the blue, and to my delight, I was offered a job at a school for children with complex and profound learning difficulties, teaching drama and music. When people heard, they either gasped in horror, gave me that simpering "I'm so proud of you" expression, as if I was about to go down the sewers to save the country, or simply asked in amazement - "But what can you actually TEACH them?" In fact, the best reaction I got was from my fellow dooyooers, particularly fruitcake, who works in a "special school" herself, and gave me a heap of advice and support. To be perfectly honest, I was half-wondering what I could teach the children myself, until I spent a few weeks settling into the school and getting to know the children and staff. I realised that it would be challenging, but in a whole different way than teaching mainstream secondary. The school is in no way a babysitting or care service, as some people in the community - even some parents - would think. We follow a strict curriculum, using the strands and levels of the Scottish 5-14 guidelines. The older children go by the Higher Still system. The SEN sector is where Higher Still really comes into its own, and children can gain a "qualification" even when they can't walk, speak or control their movements. All materials must be age appropriate - so we no longer have 15 year olds singing "How Much is That Doggie in the Window", and playing with Tonka Trucks. In fact, one of my classes did "Harry Potter" in drama, and another "Whistle Down the Wind". Although these projects are presented in their simplest form, they are appropriate for the ages of these young adults. Every day I learn something new in my job - and every day my eyes are opened into realising that I'm not as competent or understanding as I thought. The other day someone pointed out that one of the girls who was refusing to move her hands, although she is quite physically capable of doing so, was "just being a typical teenager". So true! The boys like being raced along cobbled surfaces in their wheelchairs, and playing football (how sexist, I know, but it's true) and the younger children like to throw balls - even if "throwing" is just letting the ball roll from their laps onto the ground. Because of the nature of the school, I am not confined to the drama and music side of things, which is great. I get to help with snack, lunchtime, playtime, toileting, snoezelen, movement and more. This is giving me a much more rounded view of the children. I am becoming familiar with the numerous wheelchairs, hoists, standing frames and touch talkers.I am also learning Makaton, Signalong and "Movement Gesture and Sign" methods of communication. I use Boardmaker symbols for some pupils, and I am learning to look more closely at people. You need to, when the flutter of an eyelash can mean "again", "stop it" or simply "I want my Mum". Special Schools work differently in different areas, and under different authorities and head teachers. The school I work at has a policy which seemed rather unusual to me at first. All of the pupils in my school have a range of medical conditions, syndromes, illnesses, genetic diseases and impairments. However it is policy that knowledge about these conditions is strictly on a need to know basis. Therefore, teachers aren't told what a child "has got" - rather they are told about the child and his educational needs. Although at first this seemed silly and rather OTT to me, I now see the reasoning behind it. Once people give pupils a label, the child becomes that condition. I'm sur e you all know "that Down's Syndrome Kid" that lives nearby? Well in our school, that would be Johnny, who likes painting and swimming, and who is scared of spiders, and who loves to read. Which is the way it should be, really, isn't it? This is something which you may well come across, or be questioned about at an interview, so be prepared to say how you feel! In all honesty, I think my school sometimes take this too far - after all, there is no sense in trying to teach a child to look at his peers if he can only see a fw inches in front of himself. However overall I have come to the conclusion that this is a good policy which benefits our pupils and the way society sees them. Special Education is no longer about finding somewhere for "abnormal" children to go and be cared for. It's now about the right of *all* children to an education. The right of all children to reach their full potential, and become as independent as they can ready for situations in the Real World. Just the same as any other school. I am so happy in my job, and I have to say I feel a little bit sorry for all the people who told me wide eyed and in wonder that they "could never do anything like that". Because they have no idea what they're missing out on. It is nearly a year since I first wrote this review. Sadly, in four weeks I will be leaving my beloved pupils and moving away. I don't yet know where I will be working, but I have my fingers crossed that I will get a similar post, at least to remain within the SEN sector. I have learnt a huge amount in the last year, and hope I can go on learning with all the special young people that I will meet in the future.