Effective Special Educational Needs teachers are a special type of person. You will be teaching and supporting some of society’s most vulnerable children, from pupils with learning difficulties and disabilities to children who find conforming to the behavioural expectations of mainstream education particularly challenging.
All teachers have their own unique skill sets, but the most effective special needs teachers possess some extraordinary traits that enable them to be fantastic at what they do. These are just a few of those qualities:
Being creative is one of the most useful traits an SEN teacher can have. One of the most fundamental principles in SEN teaching is that no two children are ever the same. A differentiated approach should inform every part of your lesson planning While more conventional methods of teaching, like standing in front of a PowerPoint, may work in some SEN settings, in most contexts this will fall flat. This gives teachers the chance to flex their creative muscles when thinking about how they will deliver a lesson.
Is there a way to make it practical or hands on? Are there any props you can use? For instance, a strong body of research exists for the use of puppets to support engagement, behaviour management and curiosity. Keeping an open mind for how you can adapt a lesson to fit each class is a trait that will see you well.
The special needs sector is one of the most rewarding, yet challenging parts of education to work in. No two days will be the same and things will not always go to plan. Versatility is key to a truly inclusive approach to learning, and SEN educators need to be okay with the fact that the lesson may not run as predictably as one in a mainstream school. If as the teacher, you can go with the flow and change the lesson where needed with the minimum of agitation, you will go far in your SEN career.
An effective SEN teacher will also need to be resilient to the challenges SEN education brings. The children are in this setting for reasons that don’t necessarily add up to a plain-sailing lesson. But even on the most challenging days, effective SEN teachers will stay focused on the difference they are making to their pupils’ lives. Remember to focus your pupils’ small wins; working in SEN is most definitely a marathon, not a sprint.
Teaching in SEN means working very closely with teaching assistants, SENCOs, therapists and many more different types of professional every day. You’ll be working as a team to collaborate on ideas to best support the pupils in your class.
Ever heard that phrase ‘it takes a village to raise a child’? That statement rings especially true for special needs education, and you will need to rely on the help of many individuals to bring out the best in your pupils. Demonstrating good teamwork with colleagues is also great role-modelling to your class, so don’t be afraid to use the strengths around you.
Do you have a TA that is particularly talented in a sport or instrument? Ask for their support in teaching a lesson on it. When their role models display genuine enthusiasm, the children will be enthusiastic too, and your TA will feel appreciated that you are recognising their skills.
A Sense of Humour
Having the ability to laugh at yourself and not take yourself too seriously is a trait that will serve you well in SEN education. For one thing, it’ll make it easier to deal with the more challenging days SEN will throw at you. But it will also show the children that you have a working sense of humour. This might help them feel more relaxed around you. Sometimes, all it takes is a little joke and chuckle to de-escalate a situation. If you are able to look back on a challenging situation and have a little giggle about it, you will be far more resilient to the challenges presented to you.
A Calming Nature
Working in special needs can be a lot of fun. But while maintaining your playful side is very important, it is also critical to stay calm when needed. The children in your care may have difficulty expressing their emotion and may act out if they are not having their needs met. An effective teacher will be able to stay calm and collected during these situations. Acting with a cool head, let the situation escalate. Your ability to stay calm will help your pupils manage their potential anxieties. The safer they feel, the more they will be able to learn.
These are just a few of the traits that effective SEN teachers possess, but this list is not exclusive. Special Needs Educators have many valuable qualities that make them amazing at what they do. Remember; you wouldn’t be reading this article if you didn’t’ the enthusiasm to change lives. You probably have a whole arsenal of skills that will come in handy in SEN teaching you had no idea about. Sit down with a pen and paper and write down the skills you currently possess, then think about the ideas we’ve discussed here and how they match what you currently do. You’re guaranteed to find something!
Protocol Education finds specialist SEN positions for thousands of teachers every year at mainstream and SEN schools alike. Inclusion and accessibility are driving principles behind our work, which is why we equip all our educators with the skills and knowledge to fulfil every child's potential, whatever their background.
If you want to do your part to make inclusive education a reality for every pupil, take a look at our SEN jobs near you.