Why working in SEN matters

Teaching in mainstream vs SEN is like night and day. In a mainstream classroom there may be a comparatively small proportion of children for whom daily life before they even come to school is a struggle. In my SEN practice, every single day for every single student is a struggle for a range of reasons.

My Team Teach instructor put it best – humans exist in a state of fear and uncertainty as a baseline, and either things happen to make us feel safe, or we learn mechanisms and ways to make ourselves feel safe. Children with additional needs, or those who have experienced trauma, don’t have that self-reassurance toolkit or the experience of adults making things happen to make them safe, so everything for them is a risk.

We need to hold them in continuous good regard, to be willing to start over day to day, hour to hour, minute to minute.

We need to make our behaviours and spaces explicitly safe, because for children with adverse childhood experiences, the lack of perceivable risk doesn’t make a place or person safe.

As adults who have chosen to work with unpredictable young people, we need to be resilient, patient, consistent, and positive. We need to make it absolutely clear to the young people who depend on us that we will return to them no matter what happens. We need to allow benevolent dependency to develop independence in this world (because how can vulnerable young people learn without strong role models?). We need to make sure our young people know that we will keep them safe from themselves and others. That we will teach them the self-regulation strategies to keep themselves safe. That we cherish their presence in our lives. That we will continue to choose to put them first even if they hurt us. That we will love them, even when they aren’t loved at home.

Each and every day, the work of educators in SEN revolves around Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Our kids don’t come to us with the ability to communicate what has already happened to them today, so let’s start at the bottom every morning. Feed them, clothe them, connect with them, create safety for them…then maybe we can teach them.

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