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Do Not Knock It Til You Try It

Ciaran discusses how he took on a new challenge for himself by working in special educational needs. 

Working in a special educational needs (SEN) school was not something I envisioned myself doing when entering teaching in the UK. As a newly trained teacher in secondary PE, I also didn't feel my teacher toolkit was very equipped for handling younger students and kids with disabilities. You quickly learn as a teacher, especially as a supply teacher, that you need to be very flexible and versatile. Ready and willing to cope with multiple subjects, students, behaviours, teaching and learning styles. There is certainly no school that could have provided me with so many different situations on a day to day basis. So as I reflect on my time in the school where I have spent the best part of the last 4 months, I find myself extremely grateful that I gave it a go and very lucky that I was given such a great opportunity to learn.

The beauty of the role I had was that my timetable would change on a weekly basis. Half the week I was locked in to cover Physical Education and the other half I was placed in whichever class the school needed me. Like any kind of supply role the idea of teaching an unknown subject to unknown students is quite daunting at first. But being able to stay at the school for an extended period of time meant that this allowed me to see almost all the students and in many cases, see them in different settings. Not only was there something new facing me each week, but most days I knew I was in for a surprise. From cooking to art, dancing to maths, getting hugged to being hit, an unwanted scratch to a rewarding greeting in the morning. Sure not every exchange and challenge was pleasant but each day was guaranteed to be exciting.

I think what made this role so different to doing supply teaching in a mainstream school was the feeling of making an impact straight away. Sometimes you can go into a school and as soon as you are identified as the relief teacher for the day, the uphill battle commences. Quite the opposite was part of my experience in a SEN school with seemingly small achievements creating an extremely rewarding situation. I still remember the first PE lesson I took over 4 months ago when I was taking part in my first game of new age kurling. It was with a group of profound and multiple learning difficulties (PMLD) students where they rolled a kurling stone down a ramp towards the target. Majority of the kids required hand over hand meaning basically picking up and letting go of the stone for them. So it provided a massive lift when on the second turn for one of the girls picked up the stone and released it down the ramp herself. It became apparent that she was only doing it to get her turn over as quick as possible, something that has definitely been viewed in a PE class before. But the immediate feeling of reward is not something that happened to me while supplying in a mainstream school. It reminded me that this profession can really make a difference and was another reason I really enjoyed the SEN role.

Helping a little bit to make a young child's life more enjoyable helped to make my time in a special needs school a fantastic experience. However perhaps the main reason was the staff I interacted with each day. As I mentioned, I was lucky enough to get around to most of the classes within the school and each of the staff were amazingly helpful. A great deal of patience is required to work with students of any ability. More is then needed to help out teachers who have not been in the environment before. The staff in the school are all brilliant in their own way and I owe a lot of gratitude to them for how welcome they made me feel along with all that they taught me along the way. I had respect for them when I first started and it has only grown during my time at the school.

I couldn’t have planned for a better first long term teaching role in the UK. There were a number of new challenges I faced during my stint doing supply at the school, including the early rise and long commute each day. But once I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes there was a genuine excitement to go to work every day. I was lucky enough to meet some wonderful people, witness fantastic achievements and learn more than I could’ve first imagined. I believe that working in a SEN school will prove to be an extremely valuable experience for my future teaching placements. Perhaps the biggest thing I have taken out of it is that if you are having fun, then the kids will have fun. I think keeping that in mind will hold me in good stead for all the teaching I do.

Are you interested in working in special educational needs? Speak to your consultant for more information on how to get started. 

Ciaran is a secondary PE teacher who has recently made the move back to the UK. Read his debut blog here in which he shares his experiences as a newly qualified teacher in the UK.

Tags: Ciaran, London, Secondary, SEN

Category: Australian Teachers

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