When asked the question “What do you do for a living?”, I tell people I’m a teacher. See, I have learnt from experience that trying to explain the whole SENCO thing usually leaves you faced with one of two situations 1) an individual trying to initiate an in-depth discussion about everything that is wrong with today’s education system – despite the fact they last set foot in a school 20 years ago or 2) complete confusion: “You’re a what?!”
“I’m a teacher” is by far the most manageable response unless you are then greeted with “Oh my God I love children! It must be great to just play around all day!” – honestly someone actually once said that to me – at which point you longer associate with said individual. Or if you are talking to someone with an ounce of intelligence you get something along the lines of “That must be so rewarding!” Finally someone gets it.
Yes, teaching is rewarding but as I’ve said before it is also extremely tough, the hours are long, the marking is never ending and the extra-curricular demands are tip of the sinking iceberg. You work hard because you enjoy your job and you are passionate about making a difference plus there is nothing more satisfying than after hours of intervention and 1:1 support, a child flagged up as ‘stuck’ in your last pupil progress meeting finally gets it! It is the best feeling and the sense of achievement is superb. But here’s the thing; when you are doing everything you can to support a child but their attainment doesn’t reflect the level of teaching input suddenly your best just isn’t good enough. Allow me to put that into a context…
I am currently working with a child who, in my opinion, has made fantastic progress, they are no longer on P Levels (performance targets for children with special needs), their self-esteem actually exists and they are spending 50% more time in the classroom because their reduced anxiety and improved behaviour means they can function in a mainstream environment – huge progress, right? Well, apparently not. Their academic progress is labelled “satisfactory” and their academic attainment is 2 whole levels below where it should be despite hours of additional 1:1 support. Their limited academic progress says they are below national average and so that just is not good enough according to an ever-growing pile of letters from the child’s parents.
I believe and know from experience that when you are working with a child who has additional needs you should focus on they can do and not on what they can’t. So what can this child now do that they could not do last year? Well, they can now read with more fluency, they understand what they are reading, they are accessing 50% more whole class learning, they can participate in a mainstream lessons without the emotional outbursts, they can use resources to support their numeracy but most importantly, now that they feel they are good at something, they no longer start every lesson with “I can’t do it!” Ultimately they now believe in themselves – but how do you show that on an assessment grid?
In its simplest form the theory behind the role of the SENCO is to take the lead in managing the provisions for a child with additional needs to ensure they make progress. However, in practice the role of the SENCO has a far more human element to it and a great deal of time is spent managing parent expectations, teacher expectations, parent emotions, teacher emotions as well as managing and controlling your own emotions and why? Because you care. Knowing that you are doing everything you can to support a child’s learning and knowing that they are making progress is extremely rewarding. Knowing you are doing everything you can and yet the most important people in that child’s life still do not think it is good enough is far from rewarding.
So I guess what I am trying to say is that just because a child does not make academic progress at the same rate as their peers is not necessarily a negative thing. The fact that a child is making progress and has the confidence to believe in themselves is surely a far more rewarding outcome than a step up the National Curriculum ladder? Well, according to the child in question they could not be any prouder of their achievements and, you know what? That is rewarding enough for me.