At Axcis, we meet many teachers and support staff who want to make the move from working in mainstream schools to special needs settings. People often tell us that they don’t know what to expect, or how to sell themselves at an interview when their experience is limited in this area. So what can you do to put yourself in the best possible position to ace the interview and get the job?
Recruitment websites and blogs are crammed full of generalist interview advice, but what if the advice you need is a bit more specific? We all know that we need to present ourselves well, research the organisation we are interviewing with and have a few questions at the ready when we attend an interview, but how can we tailor that specifically for a transition from mainstream to special needs based classroom work? Here are some ideas which you might find helpful.
1 – Do your research
As my mother always says, never make assumptions. If you are serious about making the transition from mainstream to special needs, you need to get a reasonable idea of how the two sectors differ from each other. This article gives you a breakdown of the SEND sector and explains some of the frequently used jargon. However, reading about SEND schools won’t give you the same level of insight as visiting some, so try your best to organise some visits to your local special schools. Head teachers are usually keen to spread knowledge, understanding and good practice so will most likely welcome an extra pair of hands for a day or two.
Or you could try doing some short-term/day-to-day supply work with schools who are amenable to having staff with limited experience. At Axcis, we frequently organise days like this, so if you are interested, why not have a chat with your local Axcis office? If you are struggling to find your local special schools (some of them can be quite tucked out of the way), your local borough website should be able to help as most contain a list of all primary, secondary and SEND schools in the local authority. When you attend your interview, be sure to discuss the research you have done as it will demonstrate to the school that you are serious about making this transition.
2 – Assess your own skills
Once you have done a bit of research and are confident on the sort of special school you’d be interested in working with, spend some time assessing your own skills. It may help to make a table of your core skills, how they will assist you in a special school and what additional support or training you may need to bridge any gaps for making you a confident/proficient SEND practitioner. See the table below for some examples to get you started. When you attend the interview, you’ll need to be ready to discuss your existing skills and what you can bring to the school, as well as demonstrate that you understand you also have some learning to do. Talk about what YOU intend to do to bridge your skills gaps rather than relying on the school to provide you with all the relevant support you’ll need. Again, this will help the school to see that you are serious about making the move, have thought it through thoroughly and are prepared to put in additional work to up-skill yourself.
- Assessment knowledge/skills - teachers already have assessment skills but you will need to consider to to adapt these skills for SEND children - so looking at assessment criteria for SEND might be useful.
- Behaviour management skills - teachers receive training in this area and should be used to following a school behaviour policy, however more targeted intervention may be required for SEND students and in some settings enhanced training may be required, such as Team Teach.
- Time management - this is a skill essential for all teaching roles, regardless of the setting so is a highly relevant transferable skill to talk about.
- ICT - using common packages, learning new school systems and being able to offer skills in areas such as distance learning can be beneficial in all settings, so again these skills are useful to discuss at interview.
3 – Have examples of emotional resilience at the ready
As an ex-teacher myself, I know that all teaching jobs have their emotionally challenging days. In the majority of special schools, you are likely to experience these more regularly. This is because many SEND students struggle with communication at some level, and as a result may exhibit challenging behaviours, often out of frustration. If you work at the more complex end of the special needs spectrum, with students who have reduced language and/or mobility but generally “good behaviour”, you will still need to have a high degree of emotional resilience. This is because you may be supporting students with debilitating or life-shortening conditions. It’s hard for anyone to lose a young person, and you’ll need to be prepared to deal with this if the situation arises. So, before your interview, think about examples of when you have dealt with challenging situations, and how you handled them, and remained professional throughout.
4 – Connect other experience
Before attending an interview at a special school, have a careful think about any situations you might have been in which gave you exposure to individuals with special needs. This might not have necessarily been in your professional life. For example, have you ever had a colleague at work with additional needs who you supported in some way? Do you have any friends or family members with special needs? Have you done any voluntary playschemes in the holidays or coached the local football team? If you have had any contact at all with special needs, it will be useful to draw from this experience to demonstrate that you have had some exposure to individuals who might require additional support and have gained an insight into what is required from this experience.
5 – Be yourself!
Louise Clifford, branch manager for Axcis Bristol at our stand
Our advice? Be yourself! And give us a call if you’d like further support.
The single most frequent piece of advice I give regarding interviews is to be yourself! It is important to give an accurate portrayal of who you are at an interview in order to allow the school to gain a realistic picture of how you’d fit into the role. After all, you don’t want to leave after the first few weeks because a job turns out to be totally different to what you were told, just the same as the school don’t want to see you struggling in the position because you over-sold yourself at interview! This is not to say that you shouldn’t make the most of your skills, experience, enthusiasm and willingness to learn, but it is always best to be honest when answering questions.
If you are interested in making the transition from mainstream to special needs, and would like some support, feel free to contact Axcis for a chat about how we can assist you. Or if you're ready to go for it, register online and start the process today!