Teresa, co-ordinator for the Special Needs Extended Support Programme at Ecolint’s La Grande Boissière (LGB) campus, is leaving Geneva to return to London this summer. With over 40 years’ experience in Special Education Needs (SEN), ASK sat down with her to find out more about her life and career.
How did you become involved with SEN?
It all began in the 1970s, when I was teaching at a school in Whitechapel, East London. During my second year there, I helped set up a centre for children who had been excluded from class and the rest, as they say, is history…
Since then, I’ve had four children and moved frequently with my husband’s job as a doctor with the World Health Organisation. During each posting, I found SEN work; for example in Kenya, I set up a small learning support unit in an International School. When we moved to Geneva, I worked as a Special Needs teacher at La Chataîgneraie campus for a year before co-ordinating a learning support department in the secondary school, which I did for 14 years. I then applied to develop the extended learning support programme at LGB which started in September 2008.
Which qualities/attributes work best in a teacher of children with special needs?
Belief in the students and the ability to treat each one as an individual. Optimism, positivity, organisational skills and effective communication with the team and students are also important.
What were the challenges you faced setting up and running the LGB programme?
Developing a sustainable model; otherwise it’s been pretty smooth, with strong support from the school and parents. The main challenge has been to find qualified SEN staff who are also bilingual. The other challenge is that it’s not big enough to cover demand from parents – we have a lengthy waiting list and I feel as if we’re constantly disappointing parents. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to grow the programme further due to space constraints and the impact this would have on integration, which is key.
What frustrates you day-to-day?
Mainly, that when you think people have got the message about SEN, you have to keep explaining the notion and the criteria, and that it’s not always appropriate to focus only on grades, but on other things such as autonomy and social interaction skills. The main lesson I’ve learnt from the times when things have worked less well is that you can’t use the same approach from one child to the next – working in SEN is a constant learning curve and you need to tailor-make the provision for each child.
Any notable trends in terms of number of cases in a particular area?
There has been a significant increase in autism, but it is difficult to know whether this is due to greater recognition or additional contributory factors
How has SEN changed over the course of your career?
Lots – in my teacher-training year there was no SEN unit and now this is a fundamental part. The other main advance is the huge increase in the recognition and knowledge of what special needs are and how to address them.
Any thoughts on the way forward for SEN and any changes you’d like to see?
I’d like to see more programmes in Geneva to cover more of the demand from parents.
What do you feel is your greatest success?
The extended support programme at LGB, as it provides a real opportunity for integration and enriches the lives of the students, the staff and the other kids in the school.
Any advice to parents of children with SEN?
What message would you give to your successor?
Enjoy the job – you have a privileged position.
What you feel your legacy is to LGB?
The further development of its learning support provision.
What are your thoughts on ASK – All Special Kids?
I admire the quality of ASK’s seminars and workshops and would like to see the program extended in terms of ASK participating at schools’ internal conferences and offering dedicated workshops at individual school campuses. The fact ASK’s seminars are currently held in the evening could well prevent the attendance of some teachers with young children. If ASK could offer something during the day, this would probably increase teachers’ attendance and help develop and widen teachers’ knowledge and understanding of SEN, as part of a broader strategy to improve special needs provision.
What will you miss most when you leave LGB and Geneva?
I will miss the daily interaction with the students and my colleagues at LGB – it’s a fun place to work! As for Geneva, I shall miss its staggering beauty and beautiful environment.
Thank you Teresa for your many years of service to children with special needs. You are truly a ray of hope for their parents who will miss you more than you know.
ASK – All Special Kids