A day in the life of a creative SEN teacher

Mary Farmer

Mary Farmer has worked at The Cedars Primary School, a special school for children with severe social, emotional and behaviour problems in Hounslow, since 2001. She is the ICT/computing co-ordinator. Mary is an Apple Distinguished Educator and has been shortlisted for the Naace Impact Awards (2012) as well as being shortlisted for a Learning Without Frontiers Innovation award in 2011. Mary has focused on improving the ICT curriculum and provision in her school as well as introducing the use of iPads and screen capturing technology.

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It’s 5.30am. and the day begins like any other – my dog Oakley, a six year old chocolate Labrador, is ready for her morning walk. She really is the best alarm clock. I’m not quite awake yet, and the thought that there will be a strong cup of my home-delivered coffee, waiting for me when I get back keeps me walking. Without time to rest, I head to The Cedars Primary School where I am not only a teacher but the ICT coordinator, member of SMT and school governor.

"One of the pupils has done exceptionally well – the smiles around the room are contagious."

By 8.00am. I am at my desk preparing for the day ahead. Today’s activities include preparing for persuasive writing within my Literacy lesson. In what seems like 15 minutes of prep work, the pupils are already trickling in an hour later. I make sure that I say hello to each one of them. It is important they feel comfortable and it’s these kinds of small things that help get the day off on the right foot. I can see that they are excited and ready to learn and I give them a few minutes to get settled in and say ‘hi’ to one another.

Unlike typical classes, mine are often based on ability rather than age, so I know one or two of my lessons today will have pupils that range from six to ten years old. These classes take a little more creativity and quite a bit more planning simply to keep the pupils engaged.

Assembly is starting, and I walk the children to the school hall, where we celebrate achievements from the previous week. One of the pupils has done exceptionally well, hitting his personal weekly target through a lot of hard work – the smiles around the room are contagious. I’m so pleased that last week went well for him and I give him a pat on the back as he is rewarded with his certificate. Other pupils haven’t done as well. One in particular has been quite disruptive in class so I know this week I’ll need to track their academic and personal targets a little closer to ensure they get the support and help they need.

I’m really keen to catch up with the pupils as much as possible to find out how they are doing and whether they are having a good or bad day, which is why I choose to sit down with them for lunch at 12.00pm. I ask the pupils about home life and what they did over the weekend to get to know them personally.

Mid conversation, I gently remind one of the pupils about their table manners, to chew with their mouth closed and speak once they’ve swallowed their food. These little things go a long way in helping them with social etiquette and integrating with other people. The pupils are already rushing from the table to play outside, so I take this break in activity to plan for my next lesson.

The day is quickly moving, and it’s already time for today’s afternoon class, Persuasive Writing. I’m currently using a mixture of technologies to help my pupils understand different writing techniques. Some of our pupils have learning difficulties and I’ve found visual technology helps them to describe what they want to write. The pupils are quite tech-savvy, and most have an array of technology devices at home, so this does not add any extra layer of complexity.

I started a project a while back in which I would download an illustrated storybook from the The London Grid for Learning website, and then work with the pupils to fill in the blank captions via their computers. The website offers access to a number of book illustrations, but I found it limiting as the books only allowed two lines per caption and the pupils had more that they wanted to write.

"I direct the pupils to narrate what they want to say about the images and record their voices on my computer."

As a result, the pupils often got frustrated and lost interest. Rather than give up on the idea, I began to research visual communication products to help modify and build upon the books. I find using technology to create digital content works wonders, and I can genuinely say that it has improved my pupils’ classroom performance.

For today’s lesson, I take out the reel of images that I had created the previous night by pulling and screen capturing selected illustrations. I direct the pupils to narrate what they want to say about the images and record their voices on my computer – this way they have moved from typing their captions to reading out their lines. I know my job tonight will be to sync the audio with the book illustrations to create fun video storybooks. It’s simple but so effective. I’m going to add a QR code so that the more tech-savvy pupils and parents can snap the code and access the video at home, on the school website or whenever and wherever they wish via a smart device.

I have begun to broaden my use of visual communication tools because of their effectiveness. The other day in a science class, I created a time-lapse video of a plant growing to help my pupils learn about plant biology. I also use it as a reporting tool, taking screen grabs of pupils’ work to add to display boards or send to parents.

Somehow, it’s coming up to 3.15pm and my pupils are getting ready to be picked up from school. The classroom is a bit of a mess and so I’m creating piles wherever I can and rearranging furniture with my teaching assistant. The day may be of over for the pupils, but I am already sitting down to prepare for tomorrow’s lesson plan.

It’s 6.30pm and I am exhausted but I finish my day in the same way I started – having driven home, I am greeted by Oakley who is patiently waiting for her second walk of the day. Next on my list is to prepare the video storybook and I laugh over some of the stories that the pupils have concocted. It’s around 8.30 or 9.00pm by the time I finally get to wind down.

I am happy to be at home, curled up on my couch with Oakley. I’m tweeting at a few of my friends and reading up on a few of the tweets that I have missed over the day. My days are often long, and always busy, but there is never a day where I feel like I am not making a difference. Working with my students is truly a rewarding experience. I lay down to rest my eyes, if only for a few hours, until the sun is already rising and Oakley is waking me for the next day.

Do you find Mary’s day relatable? Share your experiences below.

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