Placement as an SEN Assistant

Completing a placement is an amazing opportunity to gain experience, it can let you know whether that would be the right job for you. Equally, completing a placement can let you know which job you definitely do not want to do! At the end of the day, a textbook can only teach you so much- and trust me when I say I have had my fair share of psychology textbooks over the last academic year!

Right from the start I knew I wanted my placement to be in a high school setting, working with SEN students or mentoring students. I have had previous experience in a primary school and wanted to be able to compare this to a high school (despite already thinking that a high school would suit me better). After a lot of thought, and quite a few emails later, I chose to complete my placement at my old high school and sixth form. This may seem like an obvious choice, going back to a place I knew, going back to a place who knew me. However, I did approach various school in the surrounding area first and tried to step out of my comfort zone. Unfortunately, many of them turned me a way, believing that my cerebral palsy and epilepsy would cause too much of an issue (not that you can blame them!) when working with other students who had special educational needs. I felt confident going back to my old high school as they knew my abilities regardless of having CP and would accommodate me if needed. Yet it felt extremely odd to be going back as a member of staff when I had been a student only a year ago.

So what does an SEN Assistant do?

SEN stands for special educational needs, meaning I provided support to students which a range of difficulties, from Downs Syndrome to dyslexia. The role I did for 6 weeks was very similar to the role of a teaching assistant, sometimes I actually was in lessons and supporting a student. Due to my own needs, I spent the vast majority of my time in the inclusion centre of the school. This suited me perfectly and allowed students to come to me and work on various things. By building up a timetable I quickly got into a routine, being able to plan lessons and communicate with their teachers about when I would be supporting a particular student. All the staff were extremely supportive, allowing me to gain experience, but always there if I needed a helping hand. To begin with I struggled to differentiate work, not know the abilities of all the students I was working with. With their guidance, I was able to learn how to do it independently and felt more confident working one-on-one with students.

One of the days that I found the most interesting was when the school was off timetable and took part in extra- curricular activities. After being a student there myself I have had many days like this, and actually have always really enjoyed them- yet it was interesting to talk to younger students and see what their understanding was. Over the course of the day I took part in lessons about mental health, gender stereotypes, sexuality and disability. Now I appreciate that this covers a very large spectrum of topics, all of which are equally important, yet people will have very varied outlook. By being a teaching assistant in lessons it meant that I had the chance to work with very ability over the course of the day. The chance to talk to the students about what they thought and seeing them question things they hadn't thought about was insightful and really nice to be a part of.

Over the course of my placement I did get numerous questions from students about my splints or using a stick. Now many of you will know that I am more than happy to answer questions like this and actually would prefer people to ask me questions. As cliche as it sounds, surely the more questions they ask the better their understanding will be. When helping during the Year 6 induction day was when I received the most questions, it's not every day that you see zebra patterned splints! Yet then it dawned on me, how many teachers have cerebral palsy? Yes, there will be some teachers out there with CP, but do you know any? I understand that it is a physically demanding job for someone with cerebral palsy, and would be too much for some people. Though having a disability does not mean you cannot be a teacher.

However, student interaction was by far my favorite part of placement. This included one on one work about healthy eating, the alphabet or Shakespeare. Also, on a lunch time I quickly found that they loved plasticine, even if this meant making the same models every time. Some of the students already knew me, yet quite a lot of them were new to the school. Due to working with the same people every week it meant that I could get to know them more, but also see their individual progress over time. I may have only been there for six weeks, and worked with a handful of students, but I hope my input made a small difference to them- because it made a difference to me. They taught me the importance of intervention, how "thank you Miss, that now makes so much more sense" can make your day. That having pictures of Disney princesses to colour in can bring so much joy!

Yet nothing can compare when you are given a drawing of yourself.

~ Chloe x

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