As a High School ALNCo (Additional Learning Needs Co-ordinator), I get to see a lot of things you generally wouldn’t imagine a teacher needing to know about. The moments of my day range from side splittingly funny to utter devastation, with the whole range in between! I am responsible for a wide range of pupils (our More Able, EAL, Young Carers etc) but the ones that make me go back every day are the most vulnerable SEN children.
I started in education as an LSA in a special unit – a year of my life that I would happily relive from here until eternity if I am honest. I met a group of pupils who all had a Statement of Educational Needs and required small group setting and lots of support. Those days were filled with the realisation that I was there more than for academia – I was there to help these pupils be able to function in a society that doesn’t accept them as valuable. Whilst most teachers look at the pupils leaving their care with fond memories and wishes for success, I look back and worry about where those pupils have ended up and who is caring for them now they have left the system that was their entire world – the same system we see criticised on a daily basis. The system that stops at 19 and leaves young people with SEN unable to access the support they need in order to achieve success in adult life.
I followed advice about not being pigeonholed too soon and trained to be a teacher of English – I was lucky enough to have a natural bent for late night marking and signing weekends over to work rather than family and friends. But no matter how hard I tried I just couldn’t shake the SEN bug! Thankfully, the career fairy magicked me up my current job – ALNCo of a HUGE school (2000 pupils) and here I am contentedly avoiding the paperwork I should be completing in order to share with you the events of today – one that has, I fear, marked me with a new career path.
Like all teachers I feel undervalued and overworked. I go above and beyond and try not to moan about it too much, even when my two kids have forgotten who I am and what I look like. Today was much the same to start with; up at 5.45, into work for 7.15, phone ringing from 7.30 and by lunchtime I had lost my desk to a pile of paper that hadn’t been there when I had gone to teach at 8.55! Lunch consisted of a diet of detention and calling first aiders for an injured pupil and was then cut short (I can’t say I was too upset about this) for a meeting in another school regarding two of my pupils.
I got in the car and travelled to the school (yes, I got lost even with a sat nav) and managed to only be a few minutes late. I parked up outside and as I got out of the car I felt something change – I’m trying hard here to not be overly dramatic, but I could sense something was afoot and I knew my path was being moved and couldn’t figure out why a dusty path to a school reception suddenly felt like I was walking a road that had been decided for me without my consent or consideration.
The school was special, in that I mean the staff, the building and the wonderful pupils – they were amazing. I was treated like a VIP, had a personal tour of the facilities, the swimming pool, extensive grounds, small classes welcomed me like I was an old friend, smiles at every turn and a meeting that was so joined up in thinking that I was proud of myself and the inclusive practices we had agreed on! The fees for the school were clearly high as they have every specialist you could ever need on site and ready to work – it was a revelation! The pupils and their one-to-one TAs had a chemistry that I envied – these pupils depend on their TAs for everything but the biggest thing they get is the ability to be accepted with other people with the same needs. No one is judged on appearance, no one is judged on the sophistication of their vocab, hearing or intellect. They are all just accepted for who they are and the staff work with them to help them become the people they can be.
I had worried I would feel sadness or sympathy for these pupils with such profound needs, but all I actually found was a desire to go home and wrap my kids up and apologise. Apologise for all the evenings I have stressed out about the house not being clean or stressed because I was too tired to cook and no one had volunteered to do it instead. I have the privilege of being able to use my legs, to hear and see and speak when I want. I can run, roll over and toilet myself without the need for help. I can go where I like, eat what I want and access the world in the way society expects me to. I felt humble and I don’t think that feeling is going to go away!
As I drove away from that school I realised I was a different person. I had arrived there with notions of wanting to climb the greasy mainstream pole but left knowing that I had found my ‘destiny’.