Teresa Fadden in a classroom at Fox Hollies school

What makes a special school teacher?

“I might want to cry every day, but boy do I laugh every day!” How many jobs would make people say something like that? Being a teacher in a special school does. The staff doing this job must have a real passion to make a difference and a sense of humour. While working on this project, we’ve met some amazing people who have helped us to understand what their career means to them.

Many of the teachers that we have worked with have only ever worked in one special school. Once they get there they just don’t want to leave! In the surveys we did, the average length of time staff had been at Victoria school was nearly 20 years. The length of time in the other schools was not that much shorter, either. For these teachers, it is not just a place of work, it is an extended family. They find deep and lasting friendship, as well as inspiration in seeing how the children develop skills and confidence. One of the teachers, who is now retired, has stayed friends with the pupils that they have taught (something that wouldn’t happen today) and they still visit them regularly.

For some staff, the schools really are family. We interviewed two generations of two families – David and Del Derrington (mother and son) working at Mayfield, while Barry and Graham Male (father and son) worked together at Victoria until Graham retired. Graham was at Victoria for 41 years and his uncle also worked there and talked him into applying. Barry has now been working at the school for 26 years and played a very important role in helping us on the project.

Barry’s idea about what makes teachers there great is summed up by a former colleague called Mike Lavender. He never took himself too seriously when teaching in a class and this is great. What I love about special school teachers is that they make the lessons, fun and interesting and you want to learn regardless of your disability.

Barry remembers: “Mike taught students with profound and multiple learning difficulties and one of his techniques was to be the biggest brightest thing in the room, singing and jumping around, doing impressions of animals. The students were absolutely focused and laughing with him, even though they were all non-verbal.”

Adrian Mogg standing with his arms down

Adrian Mogg, another Teaching Assistant at Victoria School (whose brother also works there), explained how the job has changed him “At the end of the day, I always feel I’m glad I was at Victoria today. When I first started, I was very shy, but this place has made me the person I am now. If I’m asked to do anything, I just jump in and do it. If it goes wrong, I can learn from it.”

In all four schools, we got a very similar idea about what it’s like to work in them. You get a really strong feeling of how proud the teaching staff are of what they do. It has been extremely rewarding to hear their experiences and just how much they love being a part of a community that is friendly and fun.

I have really enjoyed working on the Heritage project, going into the schools and working with the staff and children. I want to thank the staff for all their time and effort in supporting the children to be a part of this important project. We couldn’t have done it without you guiding the children to be excellent oral history recorders.

Teresa Fadden from Fox Hollies school sums up the attitude that keeps all these teachers going; “I’ve never given up hope for a better future for people with a disability. I’ll fight for that until the day that I die.” I think all the people we have met on this project – teachers, students and parents, are an inspiration. Hopefully, by telling their stories, we can help people to be more disability aware and give everyone the respect they deserve.

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