Last time we heard all about why Melody Sung wanted to become a SEND teacher. Here, she answers questions sent in by readers. She’s a brave one!
What qualities should I expect from a SEN teacher?
Wow, this one is tricky. I suppose all of the ‘nice human traits’ you would like to have in yourself really. Empathy, passion, being open-minded, caring, patient, trustworthy, positive, reflective, kind, happy, resilient, fun…
SEND teachers face many other challenges and they can be more trying on the innate qualities of your character. SEN Teachers face challenges to their emotional resilience, they need to manage their own emotional wellbeing as well as that of their team, their pupils and pupils’ families.
Not only do they need to be emotionally resilient, but they also need to be strong, passionate and focused. They need to be able to deal with feelings of guilt; thinking they haven’t done enough to support a child, feeling the pressures of expectations and policies and balancing what they’d want to do to help a child and their families, alongside the realities/restrictions/limitations/processes of ‘the system’. Oh, and planning, teaching, marking, assessing, evaluating targets, setting new targets, liaising with external agencies and attempting to have a work-life balance too.
There is a lot of emotional containing that SEN teachers have to do whilst working with young people with SEND, which, after hours and weeks on end can be exhausting. This is not a moan. It’s reality. Don’t get me wrong, if I won the lottery tomorrow, I’d carry on teaching without question. I love my job. I’m lucky to be where I am.
What can I do if I feel my child is not being supported well enough?
It depends on where your child is – in a mainstream school and in mainstream classes with a 1:1 session, already in an alternative setting with a tailored curriculum, already in a SEND setting with other support – the variations are limitless. However, the first step I would personally suggest is to try and arrange a meeting with the teacher and supporting staff in question.
Lack of, little or misunderstood communication channels often lead to people feeling unsupported. This is true from both the teacher and family side, well from my personal experience anyway.
Parents and carers should have input into their child’s Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) and will have been sent copies of their child’s Individual Education Plan (IEP). EHCP’s are reviewed yearly and IEPs, depending on the targets set, will have evaluation and review dates on them.
Ensuring that all those involved in the meeting have agreed future actions fixed to realistic timescales will hopefully settle any further matters.
Communication is key. If you still think that your child is not being supported well enough, and all avenues have been explored, I’d suggest investigating your local council’s SEND service. Each local council should (I hope) have a designated ‘SEND Local Services’ or Local Offer – which will signpost you to local services, information and appropriate parent advocacy services.
My child’s SEN teacher never seems to have the time to tell me what I can be doing at home to help my child? What should I do?
Again, this depends on your school setting. Some schools encourage communication through ‘home-school link books’, some teachers may respond to emails or a casual chat at the end of the school day. However, no communication at all is unhelpful.
You will have your child’s annual targets within their EHCP and their IEP targets. There are recommendations of how to support the child in making progress in those targets within a school setting. Whilst it is an educational requirement for these targets to be monitored at school, there is no restriction of practising these skills at home if they are appropriate. After all, applying these skills beyond the classroom is how we help nurture well-rounded and independent young people.
Some schools publish their medium-term plans (termly or half termly) for the subjects on their website. Knowing the topics, key themes or focuses may help inform your book choices from the library, family days out to areas linked to the theme, or merely give you some idea of what questions to ask your child beyond, ‘what did you do at school today?’ and being met with ‘painting pictures’.
I don’t feel like our school’s SEN teacher really ‘gets’ my daughter. What can I do?
This is sad. But again, communicate.
If your child has an EHCP, then ensure that their One Page Profile is up-to-date and distributed to all those staff working with them. Teachers, support staff and families should work together on effective strategies that ‘work’ for your child. Consistency is vital. So are mutual respect, flexibility and compromise.
If it has to go further, then all schools and councils will have a complaints procedure. Local parent advocacy groups will be signposted on your local council’s SEND services or Local Offer.
What does a SEN teacher do differently to the other teachers at the school?
This depends massively on the school and the setting. If you’re in a SEN school, then every teacher is going to be a SEN teacher. Scaffolding learning, differentiation, targeted learning and teaching for your child will be standard practice, however, these skills should be used by all teachers!
A SEND teacher may have pursued further training in specific areas such as dyslexia, Autism, ADD, ADHD…there are many possibilities, however, who’s to say that these skills are limited purely to SEND teachers? I hope it’s not.
As part of their own Continued Professional Development (CPD), teachers are often encouraged to pursue further training and development pertinent to their areas of interest and needs of their schools.
In a mainstream primary school, teachers should be adapting the curriculum to suit the level of the SEND child, rather than blindly teaching for the ‘national average’. For example, teaching a child to use fronted adverbials and subordinating conjunctions in sentences before they can spell their name independently is not a priority. This is what I mean about adapting and tailoring the curriculum to the child.
As a teacher, being supported by the school and school leadership team (SLT) is vital. Deviating from what ‘should’ be taught on the curriculum, according to the Government, is pressured especially when statistics, end of key stage results and data are involved. The implications and repercussions of such are felt beyond that one-off English lesson.
Effective and achievable targets and tracking should hopefully be in place to ensure realistic progress. You, as a parent, should (I hope) know where your child is achieving well, and not so well, and the support put in place to achieve those goals.
How important is leadership in your role as a SEN teacher?
In my setting, it is wholly important. Senior leadership embodies the ethos of the school and without strong and positive leadership and support, my role would not be as effective. As clichéd as it may sound, mutual respect and communication are vital in ensuring that everyone works towards helping pupils and supporting their families.
I appreciate that SEND provision may be in the guise of a ‘unit’ (I don’t like saying that but what are the alternatives?), where they have a slightly different set-up to the main school, but confident and knowledgeable leadership regarding SEND for me, is paramount.
How closely does a SEN teacher work with the Head Teacher?
This all depends on the school and setting.
I personally have a positive working relationship with SLT and my Head Teacher. Our communication is efficient, supportive and open – both ways. I may seek out my Head Teacher for CPD guidance, advice on strategies or services for a particular pupil, or simply for information. After all, they are my Head Teacher. I believe they are well-versed and experienced in the education world. I respect them as my ‘boss’ and as my colleague.
In my setting, communication is constant for all the staff – including our site manager and ICT technician. We have daily input from SLT for the day ahead. Each morning we have a ‘briefing’ that allows for information sharing. It allows for consistency in our behaviour management approach and ensures our relationships with the pupils are positive and constructive.
How involved are SEN teachers with developing the SEND provision further in the school?
Again, depends massively on the school and setting. In Primary mainstream – it may only be the SENCO and members of SLT. Those teachers with SEND pupils in their class may have little input in whole school provision – it may be just the case of contributing to the strategies within their classrooms alone. Those teachers in an alternative setting or unit may have complete autonomy over SEND provision in their units. The variations are vast.
Personally, in my setting, everyone – including the teaching assistants – have input in improving provision. This includes behaviour plans, alternative curriculum provision maps, targeted intervention for both academic or emotional learning, pastoral support, inviting external agencies and therapies. All staff are actively encouraged in continuing their CPD – to improve their skills and knowledge. We cheerlead successes and promote regular sharing of good practice.
Reflecting on this…wow, I am so very lucky to be in a school where the ethos is to learn, be confident and be better!
Check back on Thursday for the last instalment of our chat with Melody, including signposting and information on where to go for more support if you need it. What are your experiences of SEN teachers at your child’s school? Do you have any more questions that we could put to Melody? Let us know @weareMFON or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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