Teaching is not a one-person job. 

​My last blog about what I do all day got lots of comments and there were a few comments about working with others so I decided to go with this as my next post. I decided to do it now before I start back and things get hectic! 

One of the hardest things about being a teacher is the number of different adults you have to work with during any given day, week, term, year. In a special school this is a crucial part of my job and one of the things you learn very little, if anything about at university. 

On a day to day basis I work with usually 2,3 or sometimes 4 teaching assistants. They are my support mechanism and vital to the smooth running of my classroom. When I first started work in my current job, I was given an amazing team of 3 very experienced TAs who had decades of knowledge and experience and here was me, in my 4th year of teaching with no experience in a special school. To say it was daunting would be an understatement! For anyone new to teaching or to special, it is ok to feel like that! 

I knew I was the teacher and I knew where I wanted to go with most things but I knew I had to turn to them, to learn from them and let them guide me as we worked together to make a blooming good class team. All 3 had big personalities and they didn’t always agree with each other or me! Working through these challenges was tricky but something I knew I needed to perfect. I needed to find their strengths and use them wisely. Thankfully we had an Outstanding year and I went on to work with one of those TAs another twice in the next 4 years. I am thrilled to be working with her again this coming year too, in what I believe will be her final year before retirement. 

Anyway, this day to day stuff is sometimes tough. There are times when I have to do things that have made me feel uncomfortable. When things aren’t to my liking with their work or how they are approaching something or I may notice something dangerous e.g. not following correct moving and handling procedures. Building up a toolkit of ideas and strategies on how to deal with all these issues varies from situation to situation and person to person. For some an informal word or casually pointing something out is all you need. For others, a more structured and formal approach is needed. It’s a real balancing act. 

When in a PMLD class team you often have to deal with difficult medical situations on top of all the learning and physical work from seizures to aspiration or maybe a gastrostomy button coming out! Each child brings their own challenges and together as a class can bring changing combinations of problems. When these serious issues arise, then you really do look to your team to come together. I wont mention any specific situations here but lets just say there have often been staff working together in a crisis situation and then we have shared tears together afterwards. This is just crucial that you can come together in crisis but also come together to deal with the aftermath of it too. I am thankful to all those TAs (and other teachers in some cases) who have helped me and the children in my care in this type of senario.

Teaching assistants have so much to give. Their ideas, their passion, their ability to work in tough situations are all things I admire about so many of the people I have worked with. Thank you to all those who I have had the opportunity to work with and learn from.

On a less frequent basis I work with therapy staff. This includes physios, speech and language therapists (SALTs) and Occupational Therapists (OTs). Their funding has been cut so dramatically since I started working in special. We would see a physiotherapist nearly every day in a class like mine and an OT once a week at least, the same for SALT. Sadly this is not the case anymore and we in class have to take on more of the work that they would have done with us in years gone by. Now I see their role kind of like a consultancy! I can call on them for their superior knowledge and we can build sessions and programmes together based on the needs of the individuals and sometimes they provide training for me and the TAs and then we put their work in to practice. I have a good relationship with all those I work with and we use a mix of emails, face to face meetings and papers to keep in contact and make sure we are creating a whole curriculum appropriate for the children and giving them the best chance of being in a good state for learning with regards to their positioning, physical well-being and giving them the best chance of communicating with us. It is also about safety. I do a lot of work with our clinical lead SALT on the children’s dysphagia. Many of the children are unable to eat orally, and those that do have massive feeding difficulties. Getting things right with these issues is crucial for their health and well-being as well as allowing them chances for communication.

There is lots more to be said about the therapy aspect of my job. I do a lot but too much to go in to now. Another post methinks! 

I also work with staff from the sensory impairment team. Most usually for children with a Visual Impairment, but sometimes a HI. They will observe the children in class and work with them within class and also on a 1:1 basis. They will then provide suggestions and support for the pupils that we as a class team implement. 

As you can imagine I also see a  lot of our school nurse and less frequently the community nursing team and paediatricians. Liaising with these can be so important.

Alongside health I also deal with social workers. This might be children and families who struggling and need some extra help or it might be for children in care. Meetings with these people and a good relationship with them is important too! They see the bigger picture, often seeing the children in their home environment which may tell you something you didn’t know. 

What I haven’t mentioned yet are other teachers within school! Working with them on joint projects, sharing ideas, supporting them in difficult times or being a critical friend is just as important as everything above. They are my first port of call when I am stuck with where to go with a child’s learning, a problem with a TA or anything really. A professional who understands where you are is so valuable. Don’t forget to use your colleagues! 

Finally I am briefly going to mention parents. The reason for the brevity is that this is clearly something that deserves a blog post all of its own! I just want to say that you should never forget what a valuable resource they are. At times they find life difficult and have a lot to overcome. At times they are inspiring, at times they are difficult but ultimately working on that relationship between me and the parents of the children in my class is a key part of working with other adults on a day to day basis. 

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“So what do you teach them?” 

​It is nearly the start of a new school year and thoughts turn back to work. 

So what do you do teach them?

This is question I am often asked when someone finds out that I teach in a school for children with severe and profound learning difficulties. This is especially so when talking about children with the most profound difficulties. “What do you do all day with them?” “Do you just care for them?” “Isn’t it just very sad?” These are questions I have heard more than once. 

I then spend time explaining just some of the things I do. This is nearly always then met with “oh wow”, “I had no idea”, “how interesting” and other such positives. 

People don’t know what they have never encountered before. Ignorance is usually just a lack of knowledge. I am happy to talk about my teaching of pupils with profound and multiple learning difficulties to anyone who will listen so I thought I’d blog a few examples. 

Communication is one if not the most important aspects of my job. Many of the children I teach have little or no awareness of other people or how to get their needs met by others. My job is to try to interpret unintentional communication and find ways for every child to communicate with the outside world. This involves so many things, too many to mention. Below are some of the things I do on a regular basis.

Look closely at what a child does when they are presented with some kind of sensory stimulus. It might be a sound, a smell, a texture to feel or a movement. The changes might be a startle response, a change in eye movements, a change in breathing, smiling, crying, moving away or towards the stimulus. Over time you can build up a picture and you try to look for a consistent response so every time I present X to a child they give one of the responses. 

Once a child has realised that other people can help them to meet their needs the challenge is on to find a way for them to communicate. Examples include eye pointing towards objects, photos or symbols, reaching towards objects, photos or symbols, signing or speech or a combination of all of the above. This really varies from child to child and often depends if they have a physical difficulty 

Physical Skills often play a huge part of my day. Many of the children I teach have some kind of physical disability, most commonly cerebral palsy. I work closely with physiotherapists and occupational therapists to make sure that the children I teach have a range of functional and comfortable working positions. Initially this is a good sitting position. Many children require specialist seating, often a wheelchair. There are so many on the market and all do slightly different things. For someone with high or variable tone it might have a kind of shock absorber to reduce the impact of their muscle spasms. For someone with low tone, it might have support at the trunk and provide a comfortable position for hands and arms to rest on. We also make sure that the children have other good working positions such as on their back, on their front or side and maybe the use of a standing frame. Postural care is of huge importance. How can my children learn anything if they are uncomfortable. You know how horrid it is to not be able to get up and move about (think of being stuck in a traffic jam or on a plane journey with the seatbelt sign on. Imagine not being able to get up or readjust yourself. Daily stretches and changes of positions are crucial for good learning and comfort. 

Once they have these good positions we can then work on skills such as independent sitting, rolling, reaching, developing head control. They can also work on skills such a learning how to press a switch, pick up a toy or explore a tray of messy sensory play. All these skills are crucial for being able to develop other skills such as understanding basic cause and effect and developing communication skills for example learning how to control their head or hands to be able to press a switch to activate a game on the computer or say hello to their peers during circle time. 

There are many more things I could write about and more detail on all of the above but that’s just a small introduction I guess. If people are interested I could write more. Just let me know in the comments!