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Teaching children with special needs broke me

November 28, 2019

I never for one second thought I would be writing a blog about how teaching broke me.  Or rather how teaching children with special needs and disability broke me. 

 

I have wanted to be a teacher since I can remember.  I grew up around young children and even volunteered as a youth leader with children from disadvantaged backgrounds.  Teaching seemed like the natural career route. 

 

I graduated university and pretty soon after I was in a local maintained secondary school in Essex, teaching all year groups.  I think part of the initiation for new teachers is they are given the most difficult classes, in terms of behaviour.  Certainly that's what my older colleagues told me. I really wish they would rethink these strategies, as newly trained teachers are just not experienced enough to cope in these situations.

 

Our training was very comprehensive and was pretty thorough in terms of different types of behaviours, I remember we had a CPD on a bloke from Australia called Bill Rogers Behaviour Management.  He was super chill and super cool and was apparently the god of behaviour management - we were all given his book after training as if the school had washed their hands of further supporting us.

 

  

 

We had state of the art reporting systems and management on call, but it never really impacted behaviour in my classroom or my mental health.

I was not the only one, many teachers dropped out of our course, one even had a break down in the staff room and was sectioned later that evening.  Rumour was she was on drugs, but the reality for me was she was having a mental breakdown due to the pressure.

 

 

On paper there should have been more warning signs, she was teaching the lowest set in Key Stage 3 English and had to constantly face the same class nearly every other day, without any strategies or real support.

 

My own personal journey was not as dramatic though I was certainly headed that way.  It starts with my expectations - I had never been to school with a child with special needs, let alone ever worked with a child with special needs in even my youth work.  Yet here I was stood in a classroom with 30 children, with multiple IEPs ( we called them IEPs back then) no visits from the SENCO and was told to teach.  To get an understanding of variety of need, I had a child with autism, a child with a history of self harming if he got questions wrong, a child who was a selective mute who often just walked out of the classroom and would go effectively missing.  Another child was categorised as BESD back then, and on her first day threw a table across the room when asked to sit down.

 

 

 

Over time dealing with the same cohorts I became increasingly depressed.I felt I was unable to help any of my students, let alone report back on 'bad behaviour' were they really responsible for 'bad behaviour' if they had special needs?  I just could not adjust to that one size works for all mind set so I found myself stuck.  As the terms wore on I realised every day I was awaking up wearing a mask pretending to be happy, but I was crying for help inside.  I did nt have any assistance in the classroom, I could see the children who needed me the most got me the least. 5 children versus 25 it was always going to come down to law of averages. I would dread parents evening when I would have to speak to parents and my heart would break if I had to tell them their son or daughter was not making the progress we would like to see.  It was not even the child's fault. It was the system's fault.  The vast majority of parents were supportive and understood and were joyful when I explained how helpful their child was, but that is not why children go to school, to be helpful.  They go to learn and I was not providing that for them.   Some of the children would get punished I knew for sure, not all parents are great parents, as not all teachers are great teachers.  I had to choose my words carefully knowing that you had to be truthful because the end of year test would not lie and the punishment might be greater.  Senior Management had no interest in my concerns unless a child verbalised it. The reality is a  fearful child is least likely to verbalise anything for fear of more punishment,  Not all parents accepted their child had special needs either and spoke of it, as if it would go away, Which really concerned me - they seems to have no support from LA or doctors in terms of helping them understand that some conditions were life long.

 

For me as a teacher I wanted to help every single child, but the children with special needs, I was not skilled enough to teach.  It broke me because I was unable to offer them what they needed.  I had not been trained adequately, and getting around 30 children in 40 mins was impossible.  I have always had high standards as a person and was just consistently failing the most needy everyday,  It took its toll on me.  Other staff seems completely able to ignore the needs of some students as if - well there is nothing we can do.

 

6 years into teaching I decided to leave.  This is exactly what happens to staff who care.  More needs to be done to train teachers to effectively offer the right support.  To put more trained teaching assistants in the room who can support both the child and family.  

  

 

In UK today there is a teaching crisis a record number of teachers are leaving the profession.  The reasons to me were very clear, I was broken by not being able to help.

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