I think this post has been very cathartic for me and has allowed me to reflect on things I haven't really thought about in quite some time. Do not feel you have to plough all the way through it - you can just skip to the advice at the end!
I graduated from university with an honours degree in a totally non-teaching subject and began my work life in the world of business.
My life as a teacher began when my children were born and I became a stay at home mum watching them grow and learn so rapidly until it was time to go to nursery (age 3 1/2) and then onto school. I helped out as a parent at nursery and then gained my first educational job as a classroom assistant supporting children within a mainstream classroom (when my youngest entered full time education). This role rapidly turned into supporting those children with behaviour problems and learning difficulties! The school I worked at had not encountered these problems before so it was a real sense of teachers feeling rather lost and all of us learning new methods to deal with the issues confronting us.
I remember my lovely headteacher apologising to me that because I was "unqualified" he could not pay me what he felt I was truly owed and that he thought I should seriously consider becoming a teacher to help other children and be paid accordingly and so I returned to university for a year and gained my teaching qualification.
My first year as a newly qualified teacher was a baptism of fire in an inner city school with a class of Year 1 children (ages 5-6) that included so many with learning difficulties, emotional and social problems, major behavioural problems as well as children with visual and hearing disabilities that they far outweighed those without difficulties. I truly loved my class of misfit children and they were the ones that pulled me through each day. Unfortunately for me, I had had the wool pulled over my eyes during my interview and it was only when I started working at the school I realised the appalling nature of how children were treated (they were supposed to be "broken" so that they would follow instructions!!) Obviously, I did not buy in to this principle and I was glad to have the classroom at the furthest end of the school down a long corridor so that I could pursue teaching individuals not broken children. My teaching assistants (I had a succession of three during the year as all suffered terrible life changing events that required me to support them personally inside as well as outside the classroom) were all young college students (16-17 years old) who I had to train so you can imagine the support they were actually able to give in reality. Despite this and the appalling bullying nature of the leadership team I survived and gained my full teaching qualification. I did have a very good relationship with the SENCO (Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator) throughout the year, this was in the days when the SENCO did not have to be a qualified teacher and she was actually a teaching assistant with years of experience. We bonded as she believed in the same things I did , and I thought about this as a role I would possibly like to pursue.
Having had far to many run ins with the headteacher and senior leaders, I chose to leave the school (the head decided to take early retirement - probably due to my persistence in standing up to his bullying - honestly I'd write a book but no-one would believe it!!)
On to much happier days at other schools being a mainstream class teacher , experiencing many new ideas about special education some good some bad, working with children with English as an additional language and teaching children in years 1, 3, 4 and 5 (ages 5-10) and finally winding up in my present role as SENCO responsible for the overseeing of all children within my school with special needs (3-11 years old), children in foster care, parent liaison and whatever problem comes through the door!
My advice is to get the child's view as much as possible and give them the ability to tell you things warts and all - I have had tremendous success with special needs children taking ownership of their learning and striving to achieve their own goals and targets. If they can tell you what works for them and what doesn't then this helps tremendously in the support that can be offered to them.
I also think that quieter places for studying and learning also helps these children maintain their concentration levels and focus on the teacher. Speech and language skills improve as the child and teacher can hear one another clearly without background noise. So think about utilising space outside the classroom where this can be achieved for those 20 minute sessions that can be so useful.
Saying thank you to those staff and children for all their hard work on pretty much a daily basis!! I know a thank you goes a long way (and let's face it often our teaching assistants are on a very low wage not commensurate with their actual workload) so saying thank you keeps us going as a team :-)
So now that you've read about me please head over to read other advice and views from lots of teachers involved in special education by clicking on the button below.