Newest Review: ... 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... more
Patience, dedication, flexibility and a sense of humour.
Special Educational Needs Teacher
Member Name: jammaker49
Special Educational Needs Teacher
Date: 06/04/02, updated on 06/04/02 (1378 review reads)
Advantages: Job Satisfaction
Disadvantages: Frstration at the system
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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