Monday Reflections

Everyone finds Mondays hard. There’s something particularly tricky about the separation of body and bed on a Monday morning – especially when it’s to the cry of the alarm clock at an unreasonably early hour! Today was the first Monday of the Autumn term for me here in Hampshire, and as much as I longed to stay just a little longer in the comforting embrace of the duvet, getting out of bed was so much more important.

They say that when you love what you do, you never work a day in your life. We all know that’s absolute rubbish. Work is work is work, not matter how much you love it. Sometimes, though, the work is important enough that it doesn’t matter if it does feel like work.

Today, for example. Child A enters the classroom. Quiet, and with a face like thunder. He’s completely shut down and uncommunicative. To anyone else, he’s being rude. He’s ignoring you. He’s being difficult. He’s being defiant. Or maybe, something happened at home that he’s processing. Maybe he needs you to be a quiet, positive force in his life in this moment. Maybe, when he’s ready, he’ll tell you what’s going on inside his head. If you know him, you can facilitate that happening faster. As it happens, I do know this child. I’ve worked with him for months. I give him paper and a pencil, and I give him space. I involve him in the classroom activities, but I don’t seek full engagement from him. I make sure I look at him when I ask him a question, to see the non-verbal response I get back. I make sure he knows I understand him. And when he’s ready, he’ll tell me what happened yesterday that created the bad mood he’s in today. He’ll tell me about the frustrations he has with a peer, left over from the end of last term. And by the end of the day – by the end of the session, even – he’ll be able to leave my classroom with a smile on his face. Because I know him. Because I give him the space to be himself.

In a mainstream school, it’s never easy to be able to give children space and time. I know I’m lucky to have chosen to work in a specialist setting where I have the flexibility to respond immediately to the children in my care and the needs they present in that moment. In an ideal world, all teachers should be able to give all children the space and time they need. To make them feel safe. To make them feel heard, respected, loved and wanted.

The reality is very different, no matter how hard we try. With 30 children to a class, and a maximum ratio of 1:15 (if you’re lucky), how can we expect or even hope to know our children well enough to respond efficiently and empathetically to their needs? It might take a special sort of person to work with ‘challenging’ children in specialist settings, but I found it even harder to go into a mainstream classroom knowing I was going to find it nigh on impossible to meet the vast array of needs presented to me with insufficient support (even the best TAs in the world can’t clone themselves!) and insufficient resources. This isn’t a person issue. It isn’t even a school issue. It’s a government issue.

But that’s a thought for another day.

I hope you all had a wonderful Monday!

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.