By Varshini Parthiban, MSc Education, School of Education, University of Bristol
In the bustling sea of educational practices and learning strategies, I discovered a unique and profoundly enriching experience – working as a Special Educational Needs and Disabilities and Disabilities (SEND) teaching assistant.
A part-timer by title, I became full-time in my commitment, dedication, and passion. This journey became a looking glass, providing me with a fresh perspective on creativity, technology, inclusion, and social justice, ideas that I previously encountered only in the confines of my education course modules.
I realized that textbooks were not merely bound collections of facts and concepts but rather a canvas where the strokes of creativity could paint vibrant and engaging narratives. The SEND students I worked with were so diverse in their ways of understanding the world that I had to constantly invent and reinvent my teaching methods. I learned to spin tales of arithmetic, choreograph the dance of grammar, and compose symphonies of science, all to suit their unique learning styles.
My appreciation for technology in education blossomed during this time. The world has seen an explosion of digital tools, designed to augment learning experiences, but only when I started using them in a live classroom, did their value truly materialize. Assistive technologies became bridges, connecting me and my students across a chasm of learning differences. They also promoted a self-directed learning experience for the students, empowering them to take control of their educational journey. What had initially seemed like abstract, tech-heavy concepts in my course modules turned into practical, empowering tools right before my eyes.
But the true treasure unearthed in this expedition was understanding the essence of inclusion and social justice. As a SEND teaching assistant, I came to appreciate these not merely as theoretical concepts but as vital, lived experiences. Each of my students carried unique strengths and individual challenges. Embracing this diversity, creating an environment where every child could thrive and progress, was a profound lesson in true inclusion.
Witnessing first hand the struggles and triumphs of these remarkable students also deepened my grasp of social justice. Here were children who, through no fault of their own, bore the burden of societal prejudices and discrimination. And yet, their resilience and determination were humbling. The commitment to equitable education for all, which once was just an ideal in my course, became a tangible, immediate goal, a goal that propelled me to advocate for my students at every opportunity.
Perhaps the most rewarding aspect of this experience was the chance to impact lives in real, meaningful ways. From cheering on a student who finally grasped a tough concept, to supporting another during a difficult day, to celebrating their successes, big and small, each moment was a privilege. These experiences illuminated the importance of empathy, compassion, and patience in education – values that, while often unmentioned in course modules, are the cornerstones of impactful teaching.
In conclusion, my time as a SEND teaching assistant has been a profound journey of discovery. It has not only enriched my understanding of creativity, technology, inclusion, and social justice in education but has also transformed me as an individual. The relationship between theory and practice, between education modules and the real world, is beautifully intricate and intertwined. They feed into and enrich each other in ways that I had never anticipated. Now, as I move forward, I do so with a heart filled with gratitude, a mind buzzing with newfound knowledge, and a soul touched by the indomitable spirit of my students.
About the author
I am Varshini, an ardent believer in the power of education and a lifelong learner. Currently pursuing my master’s degree in education at the University of Bristol, I also work part-time as a Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) Teaching Assistant. I hold a firm belief in the transformative potential of creativity, technology, inclusion, and social justice in education. Beyond my academic and professional pursuits, I love immersing myself in books, exploring the beauty of nature, and contributing to my local community through volunteer work.”