SEN support staff have a huge impact throughout the education sector, helping to support around 1.28 million special educational needs students within the UK but becoming an SEN teaching assistant can be daunting and will mean a change to how you’ll be working if you’re coming from a non-specialised teaching assistant position.
With our top tips we’re going to help you to get the most out of your position and continue to support those that most need it.
1. Start and stick to a routine
Routines can be crucial in making sure that SEN students are comfortable and able to achieve their best in the classroom so it’s a good idea to put one in place to help both yourself and your students.
Get to know the class timetable and think about how you can establish a routine to best help your students. It might take a little while to get to know them and their needs but it will pay off in the long run! Try and plan ahead and deal with any upcoming changes to the regular schedule so that the routine isn’t disturbed too much if it has to be so you can maintain your pupils’ comfort.
2. Stay calm and positive
Working with children always comes with challenges, even more so when you’re dealing with a range of special educational needs, learning difficulties, and accommodations that need to be made, so it’s important that you keep up a positive mindset and don’t let any challenges bring you down.
Maintaining your calm is going to help you to brush off anything that comes your way in the job, but don’t worry if you find yourself feeling frustrated. It’s normal to get upset and be unable to keep up the positive attitude all the time, it’s all about how you handle those emotions.
You could be feeling frustrated with a student but never take it out on them, take some time for yourself and get out your frustrations outside of the classroom and try not to let them affect your work. Don’t keep your frustrations in and make sure that you’re keeping up open communication with other staff that could help you out.
Try not to carry your frustrations into the next day, process them and go back into your work with a good mindset ready to help your pupils learn.
3. Start out slow
If you’re working one-on-one with SEN pupils then it’s a good idea to ease them into working with you and allow your pupils to familiarise themselves with you, as well as you with them! It’s best to learn how they can be best helped when you first start working with them and you can adapt your approach from there as you build up a mutual understanding and rapport.
Don’t feel like you have to have everything figured out right away. Any teaching assistant is going to have to find out what works best with new pupils and, though it could take longer to come up with a way that works for both of you with your SEN pupils, the benefits will show in the progress that they make.
4. Be mindful of your language
When working with SEN children it’s important that you use appropriate language and don’t undermine or demean them. Try to frame their learning in a positive way, rather than emphasising their struggles.
Don’t gloss over the issues your pupils are facing, as that’s why you’re there in the first place, but be mindful of how you address it both with them and their parents or carers, as well as your class teacher and other staff.
Use language like “catching up” rather than “behind”, leading with positive rather than negative but still acknowledging that there is progress to be made.
5. Make sure you have your qualifications
As a SEN teaching assistant it’s important that you show you can do the job correctly, and having your teaching assistant qualifications on your CV is one of the best ways that you can do that.
If you’re new to being a SEN teaching assistant and therefore don’t have much experience then it’s a good idea to look into a Level 3 teaching assistant course. A Level 3 course can equip you with all the information you’ll need to perform well in a teaching assistant role and give you an advantage in the application process over underqualified TAs.
Working in schools, especially with vulnerable SEN children, makes it important to have a qualification in safeguarding. A safeguarding qualification will help your employability when searching for SEN TA roles since safeguarding is such an important aspect of working in education.
There are a range of fully online teaching assistant courses that could help you in your new position, no matter what experience you already have.
6. Ask for help
It can often feel like you’re shouldering a lot of the burden when you’re working in a high stress environment, but you should always ask for help when you need it.
If you’re facing any particular issues in the workplace it can be good to air them out and get advice. Try and coordinate with other staff members that you work with on solutions to problems.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the work make sure that you don’t keep it to yourself. There are always people willing to help, you just have to reach out.
Reaching out for assistance isn’t a sign of weakness, and if you’re struggling with a particular aspect of the job (like a pupil’s disruptive behaviour) then getting the help that you need can actually fix the issue and also shows initiative on your part.
7. Get to know parents and carers
Since you’ll be working with SEN pupils it’s good to coordinate with parents and carers to help find out what works best for your pupils. Pupils themselves might not be able to convey what they actually need where there carers could.
By collaborating with parents and carers you’ll be helping to foster a support system around the pupils you work with, which will ultimately help you too since you’ll be able to work with them to help you figure out what every individual needs.
Try and arrange meetings with parents outside of regular parents evenings to encourage this collaborative communication and build up a friendly rapport!
Try to address issues that parents are concerned with and make them feel that their SEN child is being adequately helped and use the information they give you to help the children you’re working with. Check if there are any particular issues they struggle with at home so that you know what you can expect while working with them.
8. Take some time for yourself
Just because your job involves dedicating yourself to others and their progress doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t focus on yourself when you can.
To avoid burnout and letting everything that you deal with in the job overwhelm you, take time out to do things that you enjoy and blow off steam.
Take steps to manage your stress levels and deal with issues as they arise. Maintaining a good work-life balance is crucial when working in a job like this where your state of mind can potentially impact the children that you’re working with.
Working in SEN education is an extremely rewarding career path and if you follow our tips you’ll be better equipped to handle the challenges of the job. You could work in a range of other teaching assistant positions as well once you have your teaching assistant qualifications.
It might be best to start off working as a teaching assistant without SEN responsibilities so that you can get to grips with the general duties of the job first, but that will depend on your prior skills and experience level, as well as what teaching assistant qualifications you hold.