Tales from new teachers

How to orchestrate for different needs

The problem

I am training on the School Direct programme to be a secondary music teacher. The third weekly evening lecture for music trainees was on the topic of special educational needs and disabilities in the classroom; I had completed the reading and was looking forward to finding out more.

During the session, we discussed the disabilities we had come across so far and compared methods of support. The other trainees started talking about what they would do and how much experience they already had in providing support, whereas I had no direct experience with pupils like this.

Listening to the others talk how they had worked with children with autism and recognised common traits of dyscalculia and dyslexia scared me; I suddenly felt out of my depth. I just couldn't think of any way in which I would meet the needs of these students. I completely froze.

I had done my research and knew what I should be saying, but suddenly it didn't make sense because I hadn't put it into practice.

The options

I came away feeling deflated, thinking that I couldn't in one lesson provide the necessary support for so many students with different needs.

Going to my placement school the next day was terrifying; I was worried that I couldn't support the students. Then I had to plan my first full lesson, a keyboard class for 13- to 14-year-olds. I had to differentiate for pupils with low literacy and numeracy skills, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and autism, all in one lesson.

I did more reading to prepare myself but I was still afraid that I wouldn't know what to do to help a struggling pupil.

I spoke to my mentor about my concerns; he laughed and said I was worrying about nothing. He had been watching me support students and said that I was naturally differentiating for them. I hadn't even realised I was doing this - I was elated to hear that I was giving the appropriate support.

The result

The day of the lesson came, with 27 kids due to play Cee Lo Green's Forget You on keyboards. I was apprehensive, but the adrenaline kicked in and the lesson went by in a flash. By the end, the pupils could play the bass line and chords and were singing along. I managed to teach 27 students with 27 different needs.

What I would say to other trainees is that it is OK if you don't have experience with every different disability out there. How could you? And, yes, reading is helpful and can provide you with the knowledge you will need to assist students, but don't underestimate what you do naturally. Putting it into practice is what really counts.

The writer is training to be a teacher in Hertfordshire

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