Q&A – From TA to SEN Teacher – Meet Nicci
As we work our way through the summer term and look towards September I thought it’d be a good time to share some advice and insight from individuals who are/have been teaching or working in education. We will rendezvous to regularly post articles, questionnaires and discussion topics from professionals in the education sector in order to give you guys an interesting read on what to expect working in education, get some pointers or just be entertained by some playful anecdotes that occur in our local school’s day to day!
Our first post features a questionnaire from the perspective of a fantastic teacher who works in the Special Needs sector of education. She also has experience in support roles as she has worked her way up to teaching, so has tasted every challenge working in SEN from TA to class teacher. Read on to see how Nicci from Kent gives her answers to our top ten questions on what it involves to be an SEN teacher!
Hi Nicci, let’s get started!
So what year groups and/or subjects do you teach?
‘Hiya! Well I teach SEN Education to year 10, 11 and 12, however, I have taught year 13 and 14 as well. I have been a Teaching Assistant, Senior Teaching Assistant and Higher Level Teaching Assistant before becoming qualified to teach, so I’ve taught various classes and groups as a HLTA for 8 years. I’ve been teaching as a class teacher for 5 years.’
What advice would you give to someone who wants to become a teacher? What do you think is the best route?
‘There are lots of routes to teaching. There is the standard university route but there is no reason not to look at other possibilities. As I had been an HLTA for many years, and was getting on a bit, I chose to follow the QTLS route. I attended college one evening a week for two years and gained the qualification at the end. You definitely need to be prepared to put a lot of work in, especially as you are concurrently working, but it is a great way to secure a qualification without having a degree. This particular course is essentially designed for people that are teaching within the 14-19 sector and is aimed primarily at FE but it is down to individual schools whether they will consider an applicant with QTLS. As I had worked at the school for many years and taught the older students throughout the majority of this time, this probably affected their decision. It’s worth noting that this particular route into teaching keeps changing and the qualification name, I believe, may have altered since I did it.’
Describe your first lesson or teaching experience and how it felt.
‘I honestly can’t remember my first teaching experience – I’ve been in my current school, in a variety of roles, for so long that it’s all a bit of a blur! However, when I took on my first class teacher role, it was with a leavers class and I involved the whole class in organizing their Leavers’ Prom at the end of the year. It afforded me a massive range of opportunities for teaching, from telephone skills to accounts and much more. The students thoroughly enjoyed it and as a result, were enthusiastic about the lessons and ultimately, organizing something that they were looking forward to. The end result was some very excited students, an amazing event, proud teaching staff and some wonderful feedback from parents and guests alike. I used this tool for teaching for a further two years, with similarly great results until the leavers class was folded and a new sixth form programme introduced (which I was not involved with).’
What do you feel is your greatest achievement to date?
‘I’m not sure I can say what my greatest achievement is to date. Overall, I would say that successfully seeing three groups of leavers finish at the school and move on with what I feel was a noticeable difference in their independence and maturity was a lovely moment. However, there are small personal goals every day – it’s that sort of job!’
What do you think the biggest downfalls of your role could be?
‘One of the biggest downfalls is probably paperwork! Sometimes it becomes quite overwhelming and many hours are spent every evening at home sorting through work, creating resources, writing reports and summaries; never mind assessments end of year reports and contributions to annual and joint review meetings, at least once a term!’
Wow! That does seem like a lot! Well let’s jump from the least favourite part…what’s your favourite activity with your class?
‘Well I love most activities with my students but practical, life skills and independence work are probably my favourite. Especially when we can give them a chance to practice new skills in the appropriate environment e.g. food preparation in the kitchen, using public transport, learning about behaviour out in the community etc.’
What behaviour management techniques have you found work?
‘There are many behaviour management techniques that work and just as many that don’t. It’s all down to the individual student and getting to know them. Treating each person equally but differently is essential, one size does not fit all especially within special education. If something works, build on it. If it doesn’t work leave it and try something else. Behaviour management changes on a daily basis but essentially keeping calm, being fair but firm and trying to stay positive usually works.’
What does not work with disruptive students?
‘Disruptive students usually have a valid reason for misbehaving. You need to work with them to find out what is causing the problem. Getting cross, imposing lots of sanctions and being inflexible does not work. Taking it in small steps and looking for any progress and improvement is the way to move forward.’
What do you feel your TA’s/classroom support bring to your lessons?
‘My TA’s and all support staff are a vital part of teaching and learning in the school. Our ratio of staff to students is (necessarily) high and this enables teachers to deliver lessons with the essential differentiation needed within the class. Without this additional support, the learning experience would be much less positive and the students wouldn’t have the opportunity to learn anywhere near as much.’
What do you feel parents could/should do to help support their children’s learning and development?
‘Obviously, it helps if parents support teaching staff by helping to teach their children at home, rather than relying on the school to do it. However, some parents are not in a position to do this and I feel that teachers need to accept that any support, however small, is better than nothing. Contact between home and school is also very important, especially when the student does not have the skills to pass on information.’
What improvements would you suggest in our curriculum and/or current school system?
‘As I work in a special school, our curriculum is noticeably different to mainstream. However, I feel that in general schools should teach more independence skills e.g. personal financial skills, basic first aid, social skills etc. I would also love to see some sign language taught in all schools.’
What do you think makes it all worth it?
‘Seeing students become more independent and developing into lovely young men and women makes it all worthwhile. Although there are daily challenges, seeing progress, however small, is wonderful!’
What advice would you give to new students?
‘New teaching students need to put in a great many learning and studying hours – there is lots of research to be done and practical activities are necessary to complete the course. It’s all worth it if you want to teach. I specialised in special needs but there are many areas that you can choose as a specialism. I found that allocating a regular day each week to do my studying – and sticking to it, whatever happened – was the only way I managed to get through everything that was needed. I suppose it depends on whether you are working or only studying.’
Do you have any additional advice or comments?
‘If you want a highly rewarding job, teaching is great. It’s challenging, frustrating, extremely hard work and difficult to keep on top of but the positives outweigh the negatives. And…..obviously, when you lurch into a holiday after working an unbelievably high numbers of hours during the term, it’s a great feeling that you will have some down time before it all starts again.’
Thanks Nicci for your great advice and insight! We value any pearls of wisdom and experience from teaching and support staff to help offer a picture of life at schools. If you have any stories or advice you’d like to share with us about working in education, please feel free to email us at email@example.com .
Written by Danni — SEN Consultant
Picture/Quote rights — Pinterest user: Teachers Pay Teachers