Are you thinking of becoming a Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) Teacher? SEND School Teacher jobs that involve working with young people who have extra learning needs can be very rewarding. To give you a better insight into what is expected of you, we interviewed a SEND Teacher who has progressed into a Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCO) role:
How long have you been in your role?
I’ve spent the last four years as a SENCO and before that I was a classroom-based SEND Teacher for approximately ten years, working with a range of children from reception up to Year Six.
What did you do before you were a SEND Teacher?
After graduating from university, I did my Teacher Training - that's how I started down this career path.
Why did you choose to be a SEND Teacher?
I had been teaching for some time and was at the point in my career where I needed a new challenge. I came across the role of an Intervention Teacher, which is like a SEND Teacher. The role was based in a mainstream school but working with children who had learning difficulties and who needed additional lessons to help them with their reading, writing and maths. I really enjoyed it and got a lot of satisfaction out of working closely with the children and the feeling that you're giving something back, knowing that you’re really helping these children to move forward with their learning.
After that, I got a job as a Pupil Premium Teacher. Pupil Premium is a government grant that's given to all schools. The grant is paid per pupil who is in receipt of free preschool meals, or for children from low-income families. My Head Teacher asked if I would like to do the required Special Educational Needs training, so I did a year of post-grad study and then took over as SENCO.
What was your qualification route?
I became a qualified Teacher and then did my National Award for SENCO through Canterbury Christ Church University. That constitutes the first year of the Masters. You can then do another two years of study if you wish, but my job was challenging enough. Being a full-time working mum and trying to do a Masters was not on my agenda at the time.
Can you tell us a bit more about the SEND Teacher role?
All Teachers are responsible for the special educational needs of the children in their class. If a child has specific educational needs, the Teacher will put in certain levels of support with the resources available. Things like support programmes and various other interventions. Teachers can go to their SENCO for advice if a child has got a complex difficulty or they've got serious concerns. You will need to meet with parents to discuss their concerns and give them some ideas about things that they can do at home to support the child.
Then, where necessary, you can involve external agencies. That might be Social Services, Educational Psychologists, Collaborative Assessment and Management of Suicidality (CAMS) or Mental Health Services. Where there are ongoing health or behavioural needs, you can get advice from the Speech and Language Therapists or Community Paediatricians. As a SEND Teacher, it is important to make sure you understand the needs of each child and ensure that parents are on board and supporting what you're doing.
What are the best bits about being a SEND Teacher?
I think it's knowing that I’m helping the children get what they need and putting the right support in place. Also, knowing that the families I work with feel supported and listened to, is a big part of what of makes me want to keep doing it.
What are your least favourite bits about being a SEND Teacher?
When we were coming back for the first time after the school closures in lockdown, realising that so many of the children had suffered through lack of socialisation and not having that real time in school. You could see this in their behaviours and their sustained attention levels.
Also, you can't do my job if you're not someone that cares and wants to make a difference, but that comes with paying the price when things can't be fixed. There are times when I feel powerless, because there isn't enough money and I can't get a child into the service that they need. That can be frustrating because some things are beyond your control and, as with any public service, there's a finite amount of money and it doesn't go far enough. That's the hardest thing, when you can't do the things that are needed to help a child.
What skills do you think you have developed by being a SEND Teacher that you wouldn't have gained elsewhere?
I think being a good listener is so important. That's such an important skill, to take the time to listen and work through things together to try and find ways around problems.
Throughout my career I have built up a wealth of knowledge of different kinds of needs and services and that's made me really good at giving advice, because I'm sharing what I've picked up from other professionals. I've learned how to support people and signpost them to other support services, giving them ideas and things to try. Parents struggling with the behaviour of their children is something that comes up a lot, so giving them ideas on what to try has been helpful to them, and it's also helped me in my own parenting.
Also, learning to take a step back and think about things differently and how to deal with challenging situations calmly.
How has your role changed in the last year because of COVID-19?
I've worked throughout the whole pandemic, mostly from home, and that was challenging. I have very sensitive conversations with parents and having to conduct them via telephone or a Teams meeting has been difficult.
We were under pressure to ensure that home learning is set up, but for some of our children with specific needs, virtual home learning doesn't work for them. It’s been difficult balancing everybody's expectations with what we can provide.
How do you inspire pupils to want to learn?
Whenever I deal with children with special educational needs, my advice is to always look at innovative ways to make learning fun and to make things very hands on. Real life practical resources to hold and feel, and anything that gets them up out of their seats and moving around. If you make it as fun and interactive as possible, that's going to help them to learn. You also need to recognise their strengths and talents. We need to find things that they're good at and celebrate that, because learning is very difficult for some of these children and we need to remember that they all have strengths.
Do you have any top tips for bringing learning to life?
Find the opportunity to have a more creative and explorative curriculum. I think that's important for children, where discussion helps to build their own understanding and their enthusiasm, for them to ask questions about ‘why is that?’ can really motivate them. Also taking into account their needs, knowing that not all children learn in the same way, so trying to mix things up a bit. Giving them opportunities to explore the world around them is really important.
What advice would you give to newcomers or those considering this job?
You have to be realistic about what you can and can't achieve. Resiliency is key, but also to know that you can't change the world. You need to be prepared for, and to understand, that there are some things beyond your control and that's just the way it goes.
Would you recommend your job to a friend?
I love my job, but I think it takes a certain type of person to do my role. You must be flexible, and it is a constant challenge, but I think that brings a greater sense of satisfaction.
This interview shows what it’s truly like to work supporting children with special needs in an educational setting. If you’re looking to move into a SEND Teacher role you will need to have previous experience as a Teacher. If you wish to progress into a SENCO role, you will need experience as a SEND Teacher and have a National Award for SENCO qualification.
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