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Know Your Role

09/12/14

Teachers and TAs – knowing the difference can make a big difference. 

I meet a lot of different people with wildly differing approaches to the Teaching Assistant role. I have learned much from my encounters with teaching assistants – and only some of it the hard way.

As an NQT, I have been supported, criticised, patted on the back, given coffee and a chocolate biscuit, shouted at for forgetting to wash the children’s hands on time, told off for messing up the role play area, been taught some great ways with a number line, been praised for thoughtful lessons (learn to take the strokes, there aren’t many in this game…), been accused of being posh and out of touch, learned some very effective behaviour management techniques and found out how far personalised learning, ie) knowing your children, caring about them and relating effectively with their parents – enables teaching and learning and attendance. 

I have a lot of time for teaching assistants. The pay is way too low for what most are being asked to do. Many are capable of taking classes and do a good job of it. But most are not being paid to do this. Admittedly, for some teaching assistants, teaching a class can add an enjoyable and challenging element to the TA role. However, teaching can erode the professional status of the teaching role and blur the lines between  the different roles. A teaching assistant is not a failed teacher. Just as a PA is  not a B-list Headteacher. They’re different roles calling for very different skills. The teaching assistants is, I think, a far more technical role. The person who sizes up the walls, works with the teacher’s (possibly unrealistic) ideas and sees what is possible and then makes it happen.

The teaching assistant knows individual children, who they are, and how they learn, in ways that the class teacher would like to but probably doesn’t quite have time for. The huge range of specialisms within the teaching assistant role, are not necessarily open to busy and committed class teachers, those curriculum slaves, who are often running just to stand still only to find out that they need to change direction again.

The teaching assistant can be a fixer, moving effortlessly between classrooms and people, knowing a woman who knows a man who knows where the only working hole punch is.  A good teaching assistant who knows her role is understood, respected and valued, will have your back as a teacher. They will bring you tea if your voice is about to go. They will find where the head hides the A3 paper. On Friday afternoon, they will tell a mother, who wants to hunt you down for the loss of her child’s PE pumps, that you’re out on a course.

I’ve found that it helps to remember the following things about the TA role:

1) Teaching assistants can often feel undervalued – I frequently do my PPA in the staffroom, so I know of which I speak

2) If they’re on their break, they’re on their break

3) Defer to teaching assistants superior knowledge of children’s personalities – teaching assistants often do dinner duty, and that’s where it all kicks off. Often teaching assistants work close to home and are loyal to their chosen school. They know brothers, sisters and family situations. This can help you cut to the chase, particularly when behavioural problems arise

4) Make your class a fun place for a teaching assistant to work and one where talents and experiences are engaged. Show an understanding for a teaching assistant's job and use and respect the skills that it takes to do it. This will get you a long way.

And thus endeth the lesson…

We have recently launched a white-paper on decision-making in the Primary Teacher/Teaching Assistant relationship. Find out more and download your copy here

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