Inclusion…

I want to be really clear about this: teaching children with SEND has made me a better teacher, not just for those children, but for all the children that I teach.
When I started teaching, i’d had no experience, or knowledge of, SEND. My PGCE course proved of little use in this area: we had a lecture on SEND one rainy morning and I left with the impression that SEN, as it was then, meant dyslexia. 
During my main teaching practice, I was given a bottom set Year 9 group: 16 boys, 2 girls. The HOD handed me the class list and said : “They’re all dyslexic, pretty much”. I went home and worried. What, actually, did that mean? My own research left me, if anything, more confused. Not only did I not really understand what this thing called dyslexia was, I also had absolutely no idea how to teach these children. Did I have to do something different? When I marked their books, what did I do with their spelling? Was I supposed to ignore it? Baffled, I went in search of the SENCO, who, tucked away in a tiny cupboard-office, looked astonished to see me. 
Some 14 years later, I find that I am still in a very similar position: I may have a great deal more experience teaching a range of SEND children, but I still find that I am constantly seeking advice. I find it unacceptable that there is somewhere out there an entire universe constructed from PP posters, but there is still so little useful support and training for the classroom teacher where SEND is concerned. Perhaps this is why there are still some teachers – at all levels – who conflate behaviour issues with SEND. 
Working with such children has meant that I have had to work in many different ways, ways that I would never have imagined when I trained and all of it, every single bit, has added so much value to my practice and to the learning of all my students. This year I will say goodbye to a student who came in having massive melt-downs every single day and will leave us to go on to A’ Level studies. There are many factors that have contributed towards this, but only one that underpins them all: the absolute belief that every single child deserves the best that we can possibly offer them. For this child, it has meant a future that we – and he- could never have envisioned when he came to us; for his classmates it has meant a clear, fair and efficient response to his distress that ensured it would not disrupt their studies. 
I cannot fathom how, or why, we would look at the children who often represent the most vulnerable in our society and blame them for the way in which they navigate an often bewildering and terrifying environment. I have made many, many mistakes in my classroom, but I am very clear on this: if I have a child who is regularly “kicking off” in my classroom then the continuation of this is my damn fault, whatever the issue turns out to be. 
If I had spent the last bunch of years teaching children who never had a bad day; never had any issues; were never ill, never had rotten parents, in a world where SEND did not exist, I think I would be a pretty two-dimensional teacher. I’m sure there are many people who would disagree with me, but I know that the biggest – and most sobering – lessons I have learned as a teacher have been learned from the students who are often seen as having the least to give; the ones who go through an education system that is content to let them fail and be labelled thus, for the whole of their school careers.

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