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Reflecting on SEN

Reflecting on SEN
I am knocking this out v. early Sat. morning just before I go to work. So may edit later.

In response to @RafranzDavis

And the tweet: Instead of sharing the handwritten student note from their life...Share a blog post about the practice that YOU changed because of it

Training with regards to children with special, or additional, needs in my field (TEFL) has long been thin on the ground. I am not entirely sure that as a profession we really believe that SEN is our "problem". So I was horrendously under-prepared when I entered the mainstream classroom after having been in the self selecting Language school classroom.

And I screwed up. Left, right and centre. Because I couldn't have told the difference between SEN, or naughty if my life depended on it. Nor did I feel any particular need to learn. I was all too happy in my child-free 20s and early 30s to carry on seeing it as the mainstream teachers' issue, that they should manage on my behalf. No excuses. I was being lazy, unthinking and self-obsessed.

I was aware that I wasn't perhaps the best choice for mainstream ed. So I voluntarily removed myself and stayed in my ivory tower of classes of children who by and large had "I do NOT want to spend my free time doing English" as the greatest barrier to their learning.

Then I had a baby. I became a parent. Everything changed. My son has no SEN, but he struggled with his education. By extension, so did I. As a result tiny humans and what their educational success and struggles mean to the people who grew them, or raised them became un-ignorable. My empathy had no limits. I went back to mainstream ed with a very different mindset. But still no tools of note.

There I met M. A 13 year old in my class. Whose SEN were stealing his education and life chances. He broke my lessons. He broke my classroom. He broke my heart. Because I could see his future and the overwhelming unfairness of a child having his road pre-written due to our lack of resources to make things different, felt like an utter tragedy.

So I started to attempt to self-train with regards to SEN. It's not "proper" training. I have no idea how I would access that. It's reading blogs and articles from parents and teachers with regards to SEN in the classroom. Plus an awful lot of time on Mumsnet lurking/posting Qs in education debates, where teachers and parents within insight in SEN try to resolve issues, share ideas and fight the real prejudice that it still attracts.

I got better. Not good enough. Far from expert. But better. I am sympathetic to how my methods and activity choices might cause one child to go into sensory overload, or have another whirling around struggling with a lack of focus, or create intense anxiety in another. I have SEN on my mind when planning. I fall, I fail, I still need to learn more. But my big change in teaching practice is that in my thought process  I include, not ignore, the challenges that children with SEN can face in my classroom, thanks to my teaching choices.

No Disney ending though. I am still not good enough. I probably need intensive, focused and ongoing directed input rather than scrabbling around on the net. And M is still breaking my heart. He is 23 now. He charges across the road yelling "Hello Teacher !" , the sum total of what I taught him, and regales me with tales of police, irate property owners, the M-using crowd he hangs with, who exploit him as their fall guy. He is likely to be in prison before he is 25. Which exactly what I got a Flash-Forward of, when I taught him as a child.

What kind of a society are we if we can see the writing on the wall for powerless children who get no say in the choices made for them in their education, and yet do nothing about changing our priorities in terms of the extent to which we are willing to fund solutions ?

All the scrabbling about on the net looking for  insight in the world can't compensate for that. Most developed countries are creating child-sized+SEN collateral damage willy nilly. M is far from alone. His future written by big, red pen of "must make cuts". 

He didn't change my practice by writing me a note. Not least because he can barely write. He communicated things he wished we knew in other ways. I believe he was the 1st kid to really make me listen hard enough to do something. Because while I had sobbed over some of the sadder situations my small charges had to deal with in the past, I didn't really do more in my role as teacher, other than offer rather useless, private tears they never saw. M hammered the point home rather effectively. I can't make anybody's world change a tiny bit via creating a puddle on my sofa. 

Empathy is not enough.

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