'Every teacher should try special education'

Teacher Adam Black offers five reasons why working in special education might be the best move you ever make

Why every teacher should try working in special education

I remember at university that specialised ASN (additional support needs) and inclusion was a module choice – you only did it if you were interested in it and chose it. This made me think back then that perhaps I was being silly choosing this and not something more curriculum-based, just as the demands of a soon-to-be new teacher were closing in on me.

I stuck with it, though, and really enjoyed the module. It sparked a passion in me and this was followed by a part-time master's in educational support.

Fast-forward 10  years and I now know that I’m a "specialist" teacher for life. However, when I speak to some mainstream colleagues, they express anxiety or fear around working in ASN. I often hear comments like "I could never do that" or "does it not get boring?".


Quick read: Why should teachers bother with a master’s degree?

Background: Swinney under fire over special-needs funding

Additional support needs: Key ASN statistics


So, I’d like to give a few reasons why every teacher should try working in special at some point and maybe give a bit more info about why teachers stay in a specialist environment:

Special education: challenges in the classroom

Making education accessible for children in a specialist environment takes a great degree of skill, and that can be a huge challenge. You might have a range of behavioural needs mixed in with health complexities, as well as educational needs. Don’t panic – that’s why the classes are smaller

Challenging yourself

It takes a certain individual to work with children and young people who have potentially life-limiting conditions. You know how emotionally tied you feel towards a class anyway? Well, this is magnified when you’re working with young people who are particularly vulnerable and in need of care. Don’t let this scare you away – you might find you’re exactly the right kind of person to help with this.

Professional learning

Working in a specialist environment makes you realise how much you really don’t know about certain things. A few years back, a child entered my classroom having spent a few years previously hospitalised with psychosis. This was a condition I knew nothing about but with research, and by working with professionals and spending time with this child, I became competent in dealing with this. Putting yourself into situations where you don’t know anything means you have to quickly learn and adapt for the benefit of the young person.

Building networks

I found that teachers in specialist education have different pockets of experience and expertise. Because of this you quickly build up a network of colleagues who have skills you don’t, and you all help each other out. An example of this was an old colleague of mine who championed Makaton, a system of signs and symbols to help people communicate. We all relied on her heavily to start with, and she was delighted to help us, but through time and training we all became proficient ourselves. They say teaching is a small world  – well, the world of specialist teaching is even smaller, so it’s even more important to share experience.

Fun

I’ve enjoyed my job as a teacher much, much more since I moved to ASN. I find that because I’m working in a setting that really interests me, I feel more rewarded throughout the day. Enjoying a job makes it a pleasure to do, and it helps that the young people are an absolute delight, too.

If you’re interested in ASN or have considered it at any point then I’d really recommend it  – it really was the best move I ever made.

Adam Black is a primary teacher in Scotland who, in the New Year's Honours list, received the British Empire Medal for services to raising awareness of stammering. He tweets @adam_black23

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