Power of a Great Teacher - Rona
Teachers can be life changing role models for students and we want to celebrate their journey's and successes to demonstrate that teaching is such a rewarding career and one that is incredibly rewarding too!
Rona is a teacher at our Chilworth House Upper School.
What/who inspired you to become a teacher?
Growing up as a bilingual and dyslexic student meant accessing education was difficult and challenging, especially during my school years. However, I had support from key teachers at the time whom supported me and did not give up on me. I was inspired by my 1:1 support teaching assistant and Art teacher. They helped me to tap into my creative side, access education through art, and develop both academically and socially. This is why I aspired to become a teacher just like them and develop the ability to help all pupils reach their full potential, whilst not giving up on them and breaking down any barriers that may get in the way.
How was your first day as a teacher?
I wouldn’t say it was a disaster, but it the lesson didn’t give me the satisfaction of being an outstanding one like I was hoping for – this is because I’m such a perfectionist! I would say my first year of teaching was like a rollercoaster, you have good and bad days. I would be dishonest if I said my first year of teaching was a breeze. For me it was more of a learning curve and finding my true path/role within the education system whether it be in a mainstream or SEN setting.
What made you choose to focus on teaching at a SEN school rather than a mainstream?
Working with special educational needs was not something I had ever considered, however, since my first experience at a SEN School which was a SLD / PMLD (profound, multiple, learning disability,) one, I felt a great sense of purpose and achievement to continue within the SEN setting. As my skills developed I was able to break down barriers by teaching through the VAK (Visual, Audio, and Kinaesthetic) approach. This approach engaged the pupils through a sensory experience as well as through creativity. This made me enthusiastic and more eager to explore as an SEN teacher rather than as a mainstream one.
From there, I progressed to being an Art teacher at Chilworth House Upper School which caters for neurodiverse students. These students often come from a number of other settings that didn’t work for them and consequently broke down. These student wouldn’t have been able to access a tailored curriculum that suited them on an individual basis within a mainstream class setting. Neurodiverse students may perceived as ‘naughty/disruptive’ and would very quickly fall behind and be forgotten about. Mainstream settings face a number of challenges to catering for students with SEN needs some being the large class sizes, lack of support and limited resources.. All these factors amongst others would mean neurodiverse students aren’t be able to excel and improve to reach their full potential which they are more than capable of.
I soon realised how my art teaching offered a safe and calm space for the pupil’s for a number of reasons. Firstly, there is no sense of failure associated with art which means that every pupil could feel a sense of achievement regardless of their physical, emotional or academic aptitude. The art class offers a nurturing/therapeutic environment. Art allowed students to both explore and express feelings that are often difficult to communicate which is why I decided to remain within a SEN setting.
I have been at CHUS for over 9 years and hope to stay. I feel strongly that I would not go back to mainstream as I feel like I am making such a difference with students with SEN needs. Whether it be giving them that sense of achievement through creativity, therapeutic input, gaining art qualifications or facilitating opportunities for students to engage/participate in their local communities. Supporting students to change their mind set and encouraging them to be able to build upon strategies to self-regulate helps them navigate their emotions and behaviours better. This encourages them to go proudly out into the community with transferrable skills.
From your teaching experience so far, what advice would you give to someone thinking of also becoming a teacher?
I’ll always remember this advice I received as an NQT teacher - ‘If you can survive a challenging few classes/environments, you’ll either come out as a mouse or lion.. so keep going’. The one that inspired me the most was ‘Even if it may only be one student, you can make a huge difference on their life, especially if you are congruent.’
Always expect every day to be a different day, you’ll never get two days the same. Be creative with the way you teach and don’t just stick to the same routine of teaching style. When dealing with challenging behaviour it’s important to remember they are young adults with various and diverse needs. It’s important to be firm, but fair including building positive relationships with the students. If you teach adapted, purposeful and exciting lessons then the students will also be motivated to be in the class and learn. Think of new ways to teach something and be inquisitive. If you’re excited and engaged, they’ll often feel the same.
Due to the nature of our young people who have come from difficult backgrounds and have vulnerable, attachment issues, they may be in flight or fight mode and keep their guards up in order to protect themselves. Their experience of instability and inconsistency with relationships means they push your boundaries/limits before building a positive relationship with you once they know you are sticking around. As a teacher, the best way to respond is to be honest, congruent, resilient and have a strong sense of self-awareness. Additionally, having the students’ best interests at the forefront of your mind is massively important. Don’t give up on them, be patient, present, understanding and empathetic of their unique and diverse situations whatever they may be.
So, I guess my advice also would be to remember to take care of yourself, make sure you make time for things outside of the classroom. Yes you are a teacher, but you are also a human being with a life! By nurturing your personal life, you will make yourself a better balanced and happier teacher in the long run. Students will benefit more from a happier, well balanced teacher!
What is one Huge Small Victory you’ve had during your time at Chilworth House Upper School?
Working as an Art teacher has shown me how art is central to the well-being of pupils in a SEMH setting. Many of the young people I work with have complex emotional, behavioural and mental health issues and I have seen how art makes a great difference to their school and general life experience. Young people have been able to use art as their way to self-regulate as well as achieving a GCSE qualification.
Whilst at Chilworth I have co-ordinated many community events such as the festival of lights, carnivals and trips to art related venues such as galleries and museums. This is because I strongly believe in inclusivity in terms of race, mental health, economic status etc. Therefore, I believe that it is important to facilitate SEMH pupils being visible, vocal and active in their local community because all too often these young people struggle to access services and participate in seasonal events in the local area. This is particularly prevalent with looked after children who make up a significant proportion of our school roll. Therefore, these projects are important because they reposition vulnerable young people from the fringes of communities to the centre which boosts the pupil’s self-esteem by demonstrating in real terms how proud we are of each and every young person who attends the school. I’ve been fortunate enough to see our young people leave our school with qualifications they deserve and being able to be part of their community proudly, confidently and with levels of independence, including some students furthering education at college level which is a massive huge small victory.
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