Working as a specialist teacher of children with special educational needs (SEN) can be one of the most rewarding, challenging and satisfying careers in the teaching and education sector.
It’s all about working with children that have special learning needs, such as those with physical disabilities, behavioural problems, sensory impairments, emotional problems, speech difficulties, mental health conditions, psychiatric problems, or specific learning difficulties such as dyslexia, dyscalculia and dyspraxia.
What will I do as an SEN teacher?
Children with special educational needs find it harder to learn than others. Many of these children are educated in mainstream schools, but may often need additional support from SEN teachers to help them thrive.
Alternatively, some SEN teachers might be employed in special schools, where only children with the most acute educational needs are educated, such as those with severe autism.
If you teach in mainstream or special schools, your teaching experience will be equally rewarding and challenging. These educational careers involve teaching on another level. These guys need to develop a profound understanding of each individual child and offer them support which will not only influence their education, but their life in general.
SEN teachers will often also have to provide support to their pupils’ parents and families too. By providing a safe and inspiring learning environment, these educators can truly help children to flourish in their life and education.
To work with children that have special educational needs, you need to be a special kind of person yourself. Whilst you will have the same training as other teachers, you will need to be especially patient, enthusiastic and creative.
Conversely, you will need to develop different teaching methods and techniques that allow you to engage and encourage challenging children. Your communication and listening skills will be perfectly honed, and you will be able to adapt your teaching methods for individual children with their own specific needs.
All in all, you need to be passionate about helping children, but calm and assertive when you are presented with particularly challenging situations.
How does SEN teaching work?
SEN teachers that work in mainstream schools will teach individuals or small groups of children in their normal classes. They will also offer additional support to them, through further teaching and learning exercises in private sessions outside of the classroom.
These guys may have to alter standard teaching methods to cater for their pupils’ individual learning needs. For instance they may use specialist equipment or learning tools to engage them in a more appropriate manner, such as using computers with children that have dyslexia, braille with visually impaired pupils and sign language with deaf students.
When it comes to lesson planning, SEN teachers will work alongside other non-specialist teachers and help them to incorporate certain activities into their learning programmes. This ensures that they relate to the national curriculum while also accounting for specific pupils’ special educational needs.
To enhance their understanding of individual needs and thus adapt their teaching methods effectively, SEN teachers will regularly liaise with social care professionals, welfare advice officers, speech therapists and healthcare assistants.
SEN teaching careers can be quite different for people who work in special schools. These schools tend to cater for children with more severe needs and therefore working in this kind of institution can be even more challenging.
Many of these schools have specific facilities and teaching staff that are focused on providing a great education service for a very specific area of special needs. For instance, some schools might offer specialist care for children with sensory impairments.
Some schools are run by local councils. However, some might be run by independent organisations, or ‘non-maintained’ schools, which are often run by charities, such as Barnado’s.
Special schools might offer lessons and learning activities which are pretty flexible in their approach to teaching the National Curriculum. It’s all about connecting with the children in the most interesting, engaging and appropriate way possible.
SEN teachers will often play an active part in leading activities, events and trips that will take children outside of the classroom and offer them a wider cultural and social education.
One thing to consider is that many special schools cater for both primary and secondary levels of education under one roof. Consequently, these institutions might be structured in different ways and you might be responsible for educating children at a variety of different age levels. Furthermore, your opportunities for progression may differ from your options in a mainstream school.
All SEN teachers need to have Qualified Teacher Status (QTS). You don’t necessarily need any additional SEN teaching qualifications to begin specialising in this area, though studying a relevant postgraduate course might assist your progression.
Starting your teaching career as a full-blown, specialised SEN teacher might be quite difficult though, as many institutions require you to have had a minimum of two years mainstream teaching experience first. However, if you want to start working in this area of education straight away, you might be able to kick-start your career as a special needs teaching assistant.
Special needs teaching assistants provide additional support to pupils with SEN. These guys can also work in mainstream schools and special schools, and provide valuable assistance to SEN teachers.
These assistants don’t directly teach the students, but help with their physical needs, communication skills, confidence building and enjoyment of school. They might offer extra support to pupils when they are doing their school work in order to aid their understanding and progression.
Whilst no specific academic requirements are universally required for these careers, some institutions may require you to have a Teaching Assistant NVQ, or a Special Needs Assistant Certificate. Depending on what area of SEN you work in, you might have to develop additional skills, such as sign language or reading braille.
To succeed in these careers, you will also need excellent, communication skills, patience, confidence, enthusiasm, assertiveness and a passion for helping people. If you want to help make sure that no one is denied an education, and give the most vulnerable and deserving children the chance to learn, there may be a place for you in special education.