I was driving home to Waterford yesterday when this issue of children on reduced timetables was discussed on Drive Time – the issue got me thinking and I suppose I feel it’s important to address some of the issues raised from a teachers perspective. This article in the Irish Times further highlights the issue.
My own experience of this is limited but I do have some experience of working with and trying to support children with behavioural issues in mainstream classrooms both as the class teacher and also the support teacher.
“Every child is first and foremost a child” – this is something our SEN lecturer always said in college and something that has always stuck with me and something I always think of when devising ways to support children with additional needs in school. Children have the right to an education in the best setting for them to achieve their potential and learn in an environment best suited to their needs. For most children this is a mainstream school but this is not always the perfect fit.
I think it would be fair to say that no teacher wants to have to exclude a child or introduce a reduced timetable – this is something that has to be done after other methods have failed and usually when the school can no longer support the child in question.
Trainee teachers get minimal support or training in working with children with additional needs – for me personally we had an optional lecture in additional educational needs once a week and we also did a placement in an ‘alternative’ setting.
Since qualifying I have elected to do additional courses on working with children with additional needs as have many of my colleagues and fellow teachers. These courses are usually run during the summer months or during term time in the evenings and often have a cost associated with them. (These costs are often left to the teacher to pay and are not funded by the school/department of education etc.) Sometimes courses are provided by outside agencies -professionals such as speech and language therapists or occupational therapists but these courses are often during school time and no substitute cover is available making it increasingly tricky for teachers to attend.
I think its important to note that no two children with the same diagnosis will require the same support. Every child is different so it is incredibly difficult for teachers to know how best to support each individual child.
It is increasingly difficult to get SNA access for a child – often there has to be reams of paperwork provided to put forward a case for an SNA to support the needs of a child with additional needs. This often means that children with behavioural difficulties are in a classroom of 30 or more children and 1 adult, the teacher.
If the child with additional needs/ behavioural issues has a difficult moment then there is no immediate support available.
While support can be given by the Special Education Team (SET) these teachers are not always in the room and a situation may escalate before they can get there to step in/ support therefore putting the child, other children, and the teacher in a sometimes dangerous situation.
So far in my career, I have worked with many professionals from different agencies from Túsla to occupational therapists, speech and language therapists to behaviour specialists but often these other professionals have heavy caseloads and there can be long waiting lists before they can come to observe the child in the classroom and develop with a plan to support them.
As well as this, the advice or plans that they may develop may not be practical or suitable for a school setting.
In one of the cases referred to in the Irish Times article, the child has been suspended for kicking other children. While I would hope that the needs of all children can be supported in the classroom, I don’t feel the right to education for one child (who has additional needs but who is acting out and putting the emotional and physical wellbeing of other children at risk) is greater than the rights of other children. I have been in classrooms when a child has thrown a chair, tried to attack another child with a scissors, thrashed a classroom and destroyed work and classroom resources. I have seen the fear and terror of the other children while the teacher tries to keep them safe.
How can a teacher teach and keep the children in the class safe if one child continually acts out and puts the other children at risk?
Teacher Well Being
I know of many friends and colleagues who have bruises all over their bodies as they have stood in the path of danger to protect their students from another student. I know of many teachers who have spent countless hours and sleepless nights trying to think of ways to support the child who is struggling and acting out while also catering for the needs of the rest of the class. I know of many teachers who have spent their lunch times and after school hours meeting with parents, management, and other professionals trying to figure out a way to best support the needs of the child.