Staff learn how to deal with temper tantrums and how to teach more appropriate ways of getting attention than throwing a shoe
Most of our new teachers have received no special training for teaching children with severe and multiple learning difficulties. For many, coming straight from mainstream schools, it can be a bit of a shock to find out how much they have to learn. They applied for their jobs because of a genuine interest, though, and most get over the initial hump of "What on earth am I doing here?" and find that they love working with special children and have a lot to bring to us - as well as plenty to take in.
Everyone has to be taught about the ways our children communicate, from subtle body language through simple speech, mime, signing, pictures and symbols to hi-tech aids so complex that you sometimes need Bill Gates to adjust them. Next comes "Moving and handling training", which can vary according to the children you have in your class: how they manage at the toilet, what help they need, what's the safest way to get them from wheelchair to classroom chair. We also send our new staff on a course of positive behaviour management so they learn how to deal with temper tantrums, how to use distraction to encourage positive behaviour and how to teach more appropriate ways of getting attention than throwing a shoe.
We use a lot of ICT, so a quick update on whiteboards, switches, sensory room equipment and digital photography is mandatory. We also give advice on working with a team of teaching assistants and other support staff, and on how to incorporate programmes from physios, occupational therapists and speech and language therapists into what is a very short teaching day.
Finally, there's planning. One of the joys of teaching in a special school is that you only have 10 children in your class, so you get to know them very well. But it does mean 10 levels of planning and 10 ways of accessing the lovely things you have planned. In art, for example, you could have Sunny in her standing frame practising hand skills and choosing, Lily researching Van Gogh on the internet and compiling a PowerPoint presentation about his work, Derek learning to hold a brush and keep the paint on the paper, Wayne just staying with the group for a whole lesson, and Jeremy feeling and smelling a real sunflower. This can be hard for teachers who are used to saying, "Okay class, we're all going to learn about Van Gogh today."
Trudy, our most recent recruit, looked alarmed when I went through all this with her. "Get your gloves back on," she cried, "I think I'd rather have a baby."
Maria Corby is deputy head of a special school for pupils with severe and multiple learning difficulties. She writes under a pseudonym