Teachers with SEN students in their classrooms are often so anxious to catch up with the already overloaded curriculum that they may have little time and attention space left to find out what it is like to be an SEN student.
Last Saturday, I sat in on a practicum session which was part of a professional development course for teachers on teaching English to SEN students. I was able to see a number of lower secondary students who were displaying a spectrum of learning difficulties. I was deeply moved by the relentless effort made by the practicum teachers (they are all qualified teachers already) in trying to engage the students’ attention and teach them some phonics rules and reading comprehension skills. These teachers had signed up for the course voluntarily (most of them anyway). When I chatted with one of the teachers and asked her how she started an interest in helping SEN students, while some other teachers would simply label it as “the students’ problem”, she proudly said: “It’s my professional responsibility.”
Nevertheless, after the visit, I still couldn’t help asking myself: “In their day-to-day work when they have one thousand and one matters to attend to, and in their classroom lessons when they have masses of subject matter content to cover, what are the chances that they can offer SEN students extra help? As a result, how many SEN students are left further and further behind?
It could also be the other way round – a brilliant student deemed problematic because the teachers have no time to understand him. I remember a personal experience related to me by a former student, Charity. She started as a schoolteacher, and is now an educational psychologist. She recalls how she had a ‘problem student’, whom she found out later while undergoing her EP training, to be a gifted student. The unfortunate part of the story is that Charity had been the only teacher who had suspected that the boy was simply different, not problematic.
“There was this clumsy boy in my primary class for two years. His grades were bad. People kept bullying him and thought he did not understand. But I always knew he had something more, based on the detailed history facts he told me.
When I quit teaching and went for EP training, I asked him to take part in one of my practice trials on the IQ test that I needed to administer a lot later. The results showed that he was actually gifted, with an IQ of over 130.
I briefly told him the result and thought he would not understand much of it.
5 or 6 years after, he told me I was the only person who had seen his true abilities. (Of course, thanks to the IQ test inventors too)
I am so touched to see that a little thoughtless step could make someone happy and see their life differently.
I said to Charity: ‘Thoughtless’ because you were not thinking of the long-term impact when you took that step, but very thoughtful because you had sensed that there was something more than met the eye and didn’t give up on him.”