Teacher Ms Cooper has made the transition from mainstream to an SEN setting.
For the aspiring teacher, or any teacher looking to make a change, SEN offers the challenges and rewards needed for a satisfying career. While it is possible to take a traditional route directly into SEN teaching – a PGCE followed by a newly qualified teacher year, both focusing on SEN specialisms – the majority of SEN specialist teachers achieve their qualification within a mainstream environment and then move across into SEN positions.
As the number of children in education increases – with nearly half a million more pupils in the school system now compared to 2010 – so too does the number of students with SEN, both in mainstream and specialist environments. This places a greater than ever demand on existing SENCOs and SEN departments, one which is currently being answered by the large number of mainstream teachers making the move from mixed ability classrooms to smaller SEN-specialist teaching environments.
One common factor motivating many teachers who have made this switch is the desire to return to student-led classrooms. By its very nature, SEN teaching has to be focused on understanding and catering to the needs of individual learners. While this is the goal in all classrooms, our education system makes the levels of individualisation found in SEN teaching difficult to achieve elsewhere.
Ms Cooper, an experienced mainstream teacher, has encountered a number of challenges since she made the transition into SEN teaching. “Data collection is a huge one for me. I need to be able to show everything I do and make sure it coincides with everything in the student’s education, care and health plan”, she says. “I need the mainstream teachers on board with me as well because I have to ask them to collect data for the times I am not in the classroom with the pupils. I have to keep track of and monitor all of this information, understand its implications for that pupil’s education, and adjust instruction accordingly.”
What does Ms Cooper think are the most rewarding parts of her new role? “This may sound cheesy and a cliché but it is the look on a child’s face when they get what you’re trying to teach them”, she says. “This could take days, weeks or even months but when it does happen, and it will, you’ll have the best feeling in the world and realise why you decided to teach in the first place all over again.”
Ms Cooper believes it is important to be realistic about pupils’ progress and to acknowledge their achievements. “For students I work with, I have learned to celebrate the smallest of accomplishments. Their growth is not going to be as fast or as noticeable as their general education peers. However, it is progress. Sometimes, it is very hard for people to recognise the successes of a pupil when they are constantly comparing them to others in the class. This is only doing a disservice to the pupil, not the SEN Teacher.
“Most SEN classes are looking for teachers who have a positive, enthusiastic attitude and a willingness to learn and develop their special needs skills and practice. You’ll need good time-keeping and attendance and punctuality, too. If you are the sort of teacher to take a few days off at the first sign of a cold, special needs may not be the right path for you; many children in these schools thrive on continuity, routine and consistency and having regularly to adapt to supply staff can be very stressful for them.”
Rob Grays is one of the founders of Prospero Teaching, an agency offering a wide range of teaching jobs across the UK:
N.B. The above photograph is a library shot and does not feature anyone mentioned in the article.