Build a career teaching children with special educational needs

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Alexandra Miller explains how teacher training through helped her build a career in teaching children with special educational needs.

Alexandra had built a successful career in publishing, then after a career break went into business as a childminder. When her youngest daughter started school she felt the time was right to set out on a new career path as a teacher.

“I had experience of working with children who have special educational needs (SEN) as a teenager and always really enjoyed it. I was instantly drawn to this area when I decided to pursue a teaching career.”

While there is no specific qualification beyond qualified teacher status (QTS) required to teach in SEN schools or settings, some schools and universities offer enhanced SEN training for teacher trainees. This led Alexandra to successfully apply for the Primary School Direct PGCE with Enhanced SEN through the Oxfordshire Teaching Schools Alliance in partnership with Oxford Brookes University.

“The School Direct scheme is very much school-based learning so I spent four days a week in school and around a fifth of my time at university attending lectures or seminars.

“I had two school placements, one SEN and one mainstream, and my time in each was split equally over the year. I had a mentor in each placement, and over the course of the year my teaching and planning experience increased from initial collaborative planning and teaching to more independent work.

“Being in class for the whole year gave me a very ‘hands-on’ learning experience and I believe prepared me well for my NQT year.”

Reflecting on coming into teaching later in life, Alexandra has no regrets about her decision, or the career path she’s chosen:

“Becoming a teacher at the age of 39 was a huge change for me, but I really believe I am a better teacher now than I would have been when I was younger. I have more to offer in terms of life experience and I am also much more confident.

“I would really encourage anyone thinking of changing career and getting into teaching to visit as many schools as possible, especially SEN schools, and to really consider what they as an individual can bring to the profession. There are so many misconceptions about what goes on in a special needs school, and I would say the vast majority of people will be surprised at the huge diversity of abilities and needs these schools cater for.

“I never know what each day will bring, but I know it will never be dull. I am also very fortunate to work with some amazing colleagues. In SEN schools, the ratio of staff to pupils is understandably much higher than in mainstream schools; I have three teaching assistants in my class and their support has been absolutely invaluable during my NQT year. There is not a day that goes by when we do not smile or laugh over shared experiences and small victories!”