Special Class Teacher – Sarah Tester
‘It is a rewarding job with no two days ever being the same!’
I work with pupils who have a diagnosis of Autism and either a moderate or severe to profound learning difficulty. I have 5 pupils in my class and also 3 Special Needs Assistants and together we teach pupils basic life skills alongside academic goals. Each pupil will have an IEP (Individual Education Plan) outlining his/her goals to be worked on for the school year. Pupils engage in practical learning activities such as Home Economics, Horticulture, Swimming, Horse-riding and Cycling to name a few with the majority of academic work based around achieving specific Language and Communication goals.
I am part of a cross functional team ensuring pupils’ needs are being met and I would regularly meet with Speech and Language Therapists, an Occupational Therapist and Clinical and Educational Psychologists.
It is a rewarding job with no two days ever being the same!
Did you always want to be a teacher?
The idea had always been in my head but I wasn’t completely sure and instead I studied Business Studies with German in U.L. for four years after my Leaving Cert. I subsequently worked in a multinational company for six years in a range of roles which included being a sales rep., a marketing assistant and a category manager within the baby care market. I later retrained as a primary school teacher with Hibernia College.
I loved the enthusiasm of the pupils, their constant questions and the feeling that, albeit cliché, I was making a difference in their lives and ‘giving something back’ to the community.
What attracted you to the teaching profession?
Teaching had always been something I was interested in and my interest was reignited when I completed the Junior Achievement programme through the multinational company I worked for. I volunteered one hour a week over six weeks teaching third class and I realised that teaching was what I really wanted to do. I loved the enthusiasm of the pupils, their constant questions and the feeling that, albeit cliché, I was making a difference in their lives and ‘giving something back’ to the community.
Progress can be slow and could take months or longer to achieve but once a goal is met we always celebrate the pupils achievement.
What part of the job do you find to be the most challenging? Most satisfying?
The most difficult part of the job for me is managing pupils challenging behaviour which could range from refusing to complete a task to physical outbursts. It requires some thinking outside the box at times in order to manage these behaviours.
The most satisfying element of my job is watching the pupils achieve their learning goals. Progress can be slow and could take months or longer to achieve but once a goal is met we always celebrate the pupils achievement.
What kind of stress do you deal with?
There is always a pressure to make lessons interesting for pupils and especially as a Special Class Teacher I have to come up with lots of different ways for a pupil to achieve a learning goal. This is mostly because my pupils need a lot of repetition in order to achieve their goal and I have to keep them interested enough to do this.
It can also be difficult to manage parent expectations at times as some parents can be eager to move their child onto the next learning goal, sometimes before they are ready to do so.
Like most teachers, paperwork can be quite stressful. Writing up lesson plans and monitoring and tracking assessment can seem to take over at times.
within the immediate school environment it’s important to be able to both ask for help from colleagues and to give support also when needed.
In your opinion, what are the personal qualities or abilities that are required to teach children with Special Needs.
When working with pupils with Special Needs having patience is essential. Progress can be slow, even putting on a pair of shoes ca take 20 minutes!
I also find that flexibility is a must as sometimes what is planned for the pupils might not be what they want and lessons and activities can change at a moments notice.
Being organised is a must when working with any child but pupils with Special Needs often can’t wait while resources are prepared and this can lead to unwanted behaviours. Having all lesson materials ready and to hand makes teaching much smoother. The same can be said for being organised with paperwork too. If you know what you’re teaching and how you are going to teach it it makes life much easier.
An important quality when working with pupils with Special Needs is the ability to be a team player. There are lots of stakeholders involved ranging from parents to Speech and Language therapists and Psychologists and the ability to voice opinions and take direction from these parties is key. Also, within the immediate school environment it’s important to be able to both ask for help from colleagues and to give support also when needed.
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