JOBS in construction, landscaping, warehousing and security gave Dean Sullivan the broad range of transferrable skills he needed to quickly settle into his new career with the North East Autism Society.

Having never considered a career in teaching before, Dean was inspired to explore the idea after an advert popped up on his computer screen almost four years ago. And, after completing a SCITT course and qualifying in 2020, Dean took up a position as a teaching assistant within the special needs unit at a mainstream school.

“When I was doing my teacher training I spent my second term in a special needs school and I absolutely loved it. It was just a complete change and I’d never done anything like that in my working life,” Dean says. 

Every night I was leaving school with a smile on my face and I just thought ‘this is for me’.

"So when it came time to look for a job in teaching after I’d qualified, my focus was on special education or something a little bit different, something outside of mainstream.”

Dean got his wish in March 2021 when he landed a permanent job as a post-14 teacher at the Mackenzie Thorpe Centre in South Bank, Middlesbrough. 

He now teaches everything from maths and English to woodwork, and is passionate about helping learners to develop vocational and independent living skills.

“The best thing about my job is when I see one of the learners do something that I didn’t expect them to do, when it just comes out of the blue,” Dean explains.

“We set targets for our learners to help them develop but sometimes they’ll find something that they want to explore and we just stand back and just watch them do it, completely independently – and that’s what we’re trying to promote.

“That’s one of the big things for us, to set the young people up for life and to work and live independently, so when you see that in action you know you’re doing your job.” 

Dean is just one of many staff members at Mackenzie Thorpe to have entered the education sector either with no or limited professional experience.

However he brought with him a wealth of skills that have undoubtedly helped him to succeed, and says potential applicants shouldn’t be deterred simply because they’ve never worked in a school, or with autistic individuals, before.

“Whatever skills you’ve picked up over the years are transferrable in a provision like this, even if you don’t think they are,” Dean adds.

Whether you’ve been working in a shop or working in a factory, down a mine or on a building site, there is going to be something you have in your skillset that is going to transfer into a setting like this. Without a doubt.

Dean also credits the Society’s thorough induction programme, along with in-post training and ongoing learning, with helping him to settle into the new environment. 

“We do a week-long induction before we start, that covers everything we’re going to need to know. So first aid training, a bit about autism itself, safeguarding, just to sort of set you up and give you an idea of what’s going to be expected when you do start your role.

“But then after that on the NEAS portal there are a lot of different CPD options for training, some of those will have to be renewed every year, some every two years, so there’s always something to be going on as far as training goes.”

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