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An open letter to all TAs

13/09/17

One of our bloggers, Ray, has written this letter for the upcoming National Teaching Assistants' Day as a thank you to all the invaluable support Teaching Assistants had given him. 

 

‘There is a feel good factor when everything slots neatly into place and this is the difference that a Teaching Assistant makes.’

I met my first Teaching Assistant (TA) on my first day as a teacher. I was nervous (inwardly) and had been given my first Year 7 form in a challenging school. I say that my nervousness was inward because I do believe that my new students had no idea that this was my first day. I would like to think this was due to my professionalism but with hindsight they were probably too excited about ‘Big School’ to be bothered and I am sure my TA could tell how nervous I was.

So having introduced myself and given them their timetables. I wrapped up the Registration by saying ‘if there is anything you need to tell me or think I should know, see me at the end’. This resulted in a queue of Year 7 students telling me a range of ‘useful’ things. I discovered that they have a new rabbit, who likes drawing, whose mummy is having a baby- you get the idea. Then with a look of relief I declared, ‘well, I think that is everything you need to know’ and I looked directly at my TA for reassurance (who had many years more experience than I). She smiled and nodded in my direction. That was my first encounter with a Teaching Assistant and I confess that my feelings remain the same today. TA’s offer an invaluable support and their knowledge and role are a tremendous help.

This is an open letter to all TA’s, the wholehearted dedicated individuals.

I have heard TA’s saying to students ‘I was like you! I didn’t want to come to school every day but now, I would love the opportunity to go back to school’. I know this may be a tactic to get a student ‘on side’ but I do get the sense that some TA‘s love being in the learning environment themselves. Many of them told me that they found my lessons really interesting and they learnt something new.

I believe that the TA’s role is predominately pastoral and there has to be some type of affinity with students, otherwise how can you fully relate to them? Sometimes students need pastoral support to reach out for them and this is an area that TA’s understand to a great effect. They can ‘tap’ into the psyche of the students because they spend so much time with them in the classroom environment. They are aware of the class dynamics, the class politics, an individual’s mood, current illnesses, current disputes, ... The list is endless! They are also well-informed about current events of the class. Some TA’s have been able to alert me about family issues, social difficulties or student behaviour outside of the classroom. The information they have imparted has always been for the benefit of the students.

There is a plethora of work that they do; encouraging students, distributing/reproducing resources, calming upset students, reassuring students, reading, explaining, etc. However, I am going to retell the inspiring moments, not because these were any more important, but because they make for interesting reading.

I remember one TA as being the constant advisor/supporter/mentor to a highly academic girl with physical disabilities throughout her five years of Secondary education. That TA meant more to her than any teacher because she was her ‘constant companion’. At the end of her time at Secondary school she succeeded in all her exams and went to her chosen University to study ‘A’ Level ‘Law’. She return to school the other day, just to visit ‘her’ TA.
A regular TA assigned to a group of students will give them consistency. This is so important, especially in schools that struggle to retain teachers. Many students will become dejected, or feel that no one cares about them. This was one of the reasons, why I put myself forward for long-term supply at one such school, to get them through their exams and to let them know that teachers do care.

The range of skills among Teaching Assistants is as wide and diverse as it is among teachers. Some have previous careers in interesting fields, some have interests in Art and want to expand their techniques. One HLTA had explained to me how she wanted to become a teacher and was making steps towards this goal. I offered her a range of support and the next time I saw her, she was at a different school, as a teacher.

First Aid skills are also very useful. It was good to have a TA containing the surrounding area, dispersing students and responding to any inappropriate comments from some students. A Teaching Assistant with First Aid training is worth knowing. Invaluable.

The other ‘emergency’ situation when it might be advantageous to have a TA is if a fight ensues. In this sense, there was one time when my TA was invaluable. I was given a ‘cover’ lesson in an open planned area designed for two classes at a time. The other class had a cover supervisor in attendance and her students were wandering across to my class. I told them to go back to their own area and they did so. However, they also took back snippets of a conversation they had overheard. The upshot was that students from the other class rounded on one student in my class because of her opinions. The cover supervisor was frozen to spot as I physically protected one student against twenty plus. The TA had already gone to get a member of SLT, as she was no longer able see me through the crowd and knew that I could not leave the student that was surrounded. The situation was soon resolved, thanks to the invaluable support of a TA.

If it is not already clear, this is a thank you letter to all my Teaching Assistants over the years for their dedication to students and for their support to me.

Invaluable TA’s.

Thank you.

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