SEN teachers and SENCOs can sometimes be elusive characters. They’re responsible for looking after the needs of our children when us parents aren’t there and yet, sometimes, we’re not clear on what they actually do, what training they have or how well our children are really doing.
My Family, Our Needs thought you might want to know more about what a SEN teacher does. We asked readers to send in their questions so that SEN teacher, Melody Sung, could answer them. Luckily, she agreed! We have lots of great questions and because we didn’t want to leave any out, we’re bringing the article to you in 3 parts.
The first is all about Melody’s journey to becoming a SEN teacher and what inspired her, the second features our parent’s questions and the third is about where to go for more help and support. Parts 2 and 3 will be published next week so make sure you check back for the rest.
My SEN teacher story
I completed my teacher training through the PGCE (Post Graduate Certificate of Education) route in the South of England, and 6 years on, I still love it. I emphasise the ‘still’, as we are all very aware of the large numbers of newly-qualified teachers (NQTs) leaving the profession within their first 5 years of qualifying.
This makes me sad.
This also doesn’t surprise me.
My PGCE year was gruelling to say the very least. I didn’t cook for the 4 months I was on my school placements – there was no time. 10 or 11 hours at school were standard with lesson observations most weeks, followed by a commute in the dark to arrive home in the hope that your housemate had cooked too much and left you a bowl of leftovers. I’d then inhale those leftovers whilst hunched over my laptop writing minute by minute lesson plans for the following day, writing up evaluations from my day’s lessons, creating resources and fulfilling my academic university expectations.
All of the PGCE tutors would smile at me and say, ’keep going…it’s worth it. I promise’.
I thought they were crazy. Maybe it was me who was crazy?
I literally have no idea how I made it through.
But I did.
And they were right.
Finding a SEN teacher job
So, after surviving my training, it was time to apply for jobs. My PGCE was in Primary Education. But I knew I wanted to work in a SEND school. How was I going to get a job there? As a NQT, surely I’d have no hope?
There was no extra training regarding teaching those with SEND beyond my modules of ‘Inclusion and EAL (English as an Additional Language)’ on my PGCE. I knew before I started the course that I wanted to teach in a SEND school when I qualified, so I actively sought every opportunity to work with and alongside the SENCOs and other support staff that worked with children who had a ‘Statement’ when I was on my placement weeks.
Since I qualified, most local educational authorities have moved away from the ‘Statement of Educational Needs’ to an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) which were introduced as part of the Children and Families Act 2014.
Observing so many of the same systems and procedures in different schools confirmed to me that I wanted to pursue my Newly Qualified Year (NQT year), which is the probation/induction year you have to complete and pass in order to achieve Qualified Teacher Status (QTS), within a SEND setting.
What I do as a SEN teacher
I am now a teacher in a Secondary SEN School. The needs of the pupils vary considerably, from specific learning difficulties such as dyslexia, to autism, Attention Deficient Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA), anxiety, Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), speech and language impairments and other associated medical or genetic conditions.
We are a small school, and every pupil has an EHCP. Smaller class sizes are needed because of the complex needs of the pupils and we are very lucky to have at least one teaching assistant in every lesson. This ensures safety for both the pupils and staff, but allows for smaller group work, which ensures tailored and differentiated teaching and learning.
I have responsibility over transition from Year 6 to us in Year 7. I am the Personal and Social Development (PSD) co-ordinator for Key Stage 3. The main bulk of my teaching timetable is with the Year 7s – English, maths, science, PE, history, geography, life skills and PSD.
I complete/update EHCPs for our pupils, I write and evaluate termly and annual targets on EHCPs. I liaise with therapists, speech and language, the head of Key Stage 3 and the School Leadership Team (SLT) on provision, intervention, and support – either pastoral or educational. I, of course, communicate with parents and carers regularly too.
Why I became a SEN teacher
A little context is needed here. I must admit, during the summer semester of second year undergrad; when I was at university in London reading politics and economic history, the choice of pursuing a career in teaching did not strike me like a sunbeam from the heavens.
Whilst my classmates were applying for internships at international non-government charities; I pondered on a passing comment a friend had made to me over coffee, ‘You’d make a great teacher’.
On reflection, the idea of not teaching or not being in education now is unfathomable. How I didn’t know I was destined to teach is beyond me. It is the only job I could ever see myself in. It’s perfect.
There is some personal context, which also shaped my decisions to become a teacher. My brother is autistic and has a severe language impairment. I witnessed my Mum and Dad battling with his school and the local authority, especially when it came to finding him a new place at a school, aged 16.
Looking back and now being able to fully understand the journey my brother and mum (she was his advocate) had to go through with his education, and the years of struggle she fought, regarding appropriate provision – both educational and residential, respite support, funding, access to services etc, has spurred me on to be the best teacher I can be. To be the best supporter for those parents who are struggling, who need support, an understanding or listening ear. To be that teacher you want to be taught by, that teacher that made you feel good about yourself…that teacher who ‘got’ you.
Back in the late 1990s, of course, my understanding of SEND education was limited. However, I have no doubt that there are families that went through or are going through the struggles that my mum and dad had to endure, and at times, battle through. It’s not fair, and if there is a small chance I am making a difference, making it easier, then I know I’m where I should be.
So, that’s what a SEN teacher does and how she got to where she is. Make sure you read our next instalment of Melody’s Q&A, where we put readers’ questions to her. There are some great ones, so stay tuned next week!