Updated: Nov 22, 2022
Coming from a completely different background to teaching (scientific testing), I started out by volunteering in my local school. I worked alongside an excellent teacher and her equally excellent teaching assistant. I went from testing some rather nasty chemicals to pretending to be teapot in a reception class. The school was very supportive (not in me being a teapot!) – particularly the headteacher – all members of staff were friendly and always there to help me. I guess I owe the teaching staff a big thank you as this was just the beginning of my new career in teaching and I received a warm welcome into school life. It was evident at this point that to make a school work (not just churning out data and results) you needed everyone to work together. From cleaners and kitchen staff through to the head, it is essential all pull together for the school.
This may seem obvious but it’s not always the case where everyone feels part of the team and appreciated.
Moving forward four years, I had retaken the exams needed for teaching and started my teacher training all whilst working as a teaching assistant in an infant school. To cut a long story short, I ended up teaching for ten years and all in key stage two, most in the upper key stage. The point here being: I’ve worked as a teaching assistant and as a teacher so I get what it is like at the coal face.
I would like to think that those early experiences at the start of my career helped me develop strong relationships with colleagues and not just my fellow teachers but the whole of the staff within school. I’m sure most of you will agree, being friendly with the school’s admin team is a must! I guess where I’m going with this is that to be effective you need everyone working together and really appreciate those around you and understand that they all have needs.
However, I really wanted to give a shout out to those teaching assistants out there. I’ve been fortunate to work with some excellent TAs who in my opinion would have made great teachers. I’m sure there are so many of you out there who agree with this? Going back again to those early days, I could see that the relationship between that class teacher and her TA was good. It just worked. The children benefitted from this strong bond and actually you could see how this made the job even more rewarding for the two of them. Again, I feel this was something that helped my time in school. I’ve been in tears of laughter with my teaching assistants, days have flown by - actually weeks and in some cases, years but more importantly the children noticed that this worked in the class. They came in looking forward to learning. They joined in. Obviously, most took the side of the TA but it didn’t matter they were happy and learning.
Once you close that classroom door in the morning, you are a teaching team. How can you not work together? Potentially, thirty plus children between two of you is hard enough. Throw in a lack of appreciation and you’re already on the back foot. Work together and you’ll get results. You must trust in each other's ability – after all you are both there for the same reason and I’m not just talking about paying the bills! Seriously, everything that happens in that class reflects on you and how you work together.
Imagine tackling some of the behaviours seen in classrooms today on your own. TAs are often in the firing line when an issue occurs. Without the TA ‘dealing’ with the problem the whole class can be disrupted for much longer and we all know how valuable every second is for learning. I haven’t even mentioned one to one, small group support to name a few. TAs are more often than not asked to take pupils out to focus on catch up, reading, times-tables work, phonics – I could go on! Again, how could this be done effectively without the TA?
Teachers often get the credit – they do the planning, have the meetings, assessment responsibilities, parents’ evenings etc – but this reflected in the pay. I’m not going too far down this path and I’ve always thought that the teacher starting salary should be more (hopefully, now it will start at £30,000 if the schools new White Paper follows through on its promise) but with this in mind, surely TAs should be paid more too as they have increasingly more expectations put on them.
I think most outside of education understand that the role of the TA isn’t just setting out paint pots and tidying away at the end of the lesson – I feel this was a view of some. In fact, I actually had a comment that we just give the children milk and a biscuit in the afternoon and they sleep until home time! They were joking of course but coupled with our apparent 9am start and 3pm finish, this was a slight dig at our profession. Little do they know, hey? I know many TAs arrive in school earlier than they need to and stay late into the evening to ensure that the children in their care get the best from them. To me, TAs are a crucial part of everyday life in school and need more praise than they receive.
I know that we celebrate our wonderful TAs on September 16th but a little thank you each day goes along way. Please feel free to comment on this blog. I would love to know your thoughts.