What Makes a Great SEN Teacher?

A SEN (special educational needs) teacher is no ordinary teacher. These are teachers who work with children who have learning difficulties or disabilities, and who find school lessons and learning harder than typical children of the same age.

You could be teaching children with mild or moderate learning difficulties, specific learning difficulties (such as dyslexia), physical disabilities, emotional or behavioural problems, or hearing or visual impairment. It’s certainly not an easy job, but it is tremendously rewarding and fulfilling.

To be a SEN teacher you need a teaching qualification and experience in a classroom – but aside from the formal requirements, what else do you need? What about personal qualities? What really makes a great SEN teacher? Read on…

The very best SEN teachers can adapt their lesson plans and style to suit their pupils – after all, teaching children with SEN isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ strategy.

It might involve teaching the same material in three or four different ways to help individuals understand and achieve.

Some children will find it hard to express themselves and their emotions and so a SEN teacher might encounter issues with communication. They have to have the skills to detect any background issues and be able to tackle them before they manifest into something bigger.

There will be bad days, sad days, testing days and trying days. There will be days when it feels like nothing goes to plan, and days when it seems as if everything has gone wrong. The SEN teacher knows this and accepts it, because maintaining composure and calm and staying patient in the face of challenges are all part of the job.

Sense of humour
At the same time, it’s important to be able to smile and laugh at the setbacks. Some incidents are best greeted with a chuckle, so the SEN teacher needs a good sense of humour – not only to help themselves cope with a difficult situation but also to show pupils that they’re having fun and enjoying their job. Pupils will respond to you better if you’re relaxed and happy.

Self-doubt and uncertainty are not part of the SEN teacher’s vocabulary. They must be sure of themselves, firm in their decision-making, and assured in their manner and delivery. The SEN teacher needs to be an inspiring leader.

Organisational skills
All pupils need structure to succeed, but it is especially important for SEN children. They often need clear instruction and explanation, and rules and boundaries. Taking a lesson ‘off the cuff’ or starting one unprepared is bound to backfire. There’s a difference between organised chaos and just chaos.