Whilst teaching in a mainstream primary school, I mentioned to an experienced colleague my desire to work in a Special school. The school I had in mind involved working with children who had educational needs including physical, social, emotional and behavioural. It was a far cry from a class of 30 children who, although ability ranged and some did have statements of SEN, did not require such specific and diverse support within a classroom setting. When I told my colleague about my plans his exact words were, “You are an excellent teacher. You’d be wasted in Special Needs.”
His words were a red rag to a bull. If I’d had more confidence, I would have told him exactly what I thought about his statement but instead I left his office shocked and immediately contacted the Special school to arrange a visit. On the visit, I spent time in a variety of lessons. I met students who didn’t know they were in a school setting – their learning was all sensory. I met students who I later went on to support to gain Btech qualifications in Food Technology. I met students who had been excluded from previous schools as their behaviour could not be supported in the mainstream system. I met students with a diagnosis of ADHD, students on all shades of the autism spectrum, students who had medical conditions which I had never heard of and students who had come from some of the most challenging and heartbreaking homes.
I knew after an hour in the school that I would work there one day. I also knew that my skills would not be wasted – far from it. I knew my strengths as a teacher stemmed from the fact that I could form great relationships with children and I could understand and break down learning into the format that would make it accessible for individuals. I also knew that my expectations (unlike those of my mainstream colleague) would remain high. The children in that school, as all children do, deserved to have teachers who saw their potential and encouraged them to meet it and pushed them to try new things and to push their own expectations of themselves too.
By the end of my second year at the school, my form group – a very diverse and wonderfully challenging group of Key Stage 3 children – stood on stage in front of the whole school and performed a musical theatre number from Bugsy Malone, with a video backdrop of them dressed as gangsters dancing. I had an incredible team of teaching assistants that year who helped make this happen and, as we all danced along with the students, I could see how proud we all were – staff and students alike. The idea was a mad one and expectations had to be high to pull it off. We also had to help the students believe they could do it – we raised their expectations of themselves at the same time. And the pay-off was amazing.
On Day 10 of this challenge, I wrote about another teaching memory – about teaching maths and thinking about percentages. I am now at the other end of the challenge – only 10 days left. 90% of the challenge is done. 90 days ago I set myself the challenge of exercising for 100 days in a row and now, with 10 days left to complete, I realise that my expectations for myself were high – but I believe that, like the children I have worked with over the years, I should have high expectations of myself because setting my goal high and believing I’m capable of achieving it means the pay-off in 10 days time will be awesome.