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Teaching assistance from Teacher Assistants

06/09/17

One of our bloggers, Ray, has written this entry for the upcoming National Teaching Assistants Day as a tribute to the hard work TAs do and the different roles they adopt.

 

 As a supply teacher, TA’s (Teaching Assistants) are invaluable and as school budgets are reduced, they are also a rarity these days. Whenever support staff enters the classroom the first thing I need to establish is their role.

The first question I will ask is whether they are assigned to a specific student or a group of students. It is common practise for students with SEN (Special Educational Needs), especially those with a EHCP (Educational, Health, Care Plan), to be supported by a TA or a LSA (Learning Support Assistant). I will always allow their experience and knowledge to guide my teaching as they know their charge(s) better than I do.

I am always mindful that a TA has been assigned within a class due to specific reasons and her/his presence is to help facilitate the teaching. I have met and worked with many TA’s and HLTA’s (Higher Level Teaching Assistants) from different backgrounds, and I have found that the overriding force that drives them all is a caring nature, they genuinely want to help students progress, as I do.

There is no greater satisfaction than when all parties work in such unison that the lesson is seamless and the students benefit from ‘Eureka’ moments. I find that this is best achieved when there has been prior communication with the assigned support staff and when they have the freedom to work within their roles. For example, TAs might have a greater overview of the general behaviour of individuals or they may be aware of a particular behavioral pattern.

Behaviour is only one aspect that a TA can help with. Therefore, fostering good behaviour is much easier when the Teaching Assistant’s knowledge and skills are utilised. They might have a far greater understanding of the class than what is in a Learning Folder (Seating plans, basic SEN/medical information and recent grades), and these folders are not usually available for general short term cover.

Teaching Assistants usually know the history of the class. They might be able to detect the ‘triggers’ associated with different students, mental well-being as well as self-esteem issues. They might also be aware of social difficulties of a child or their family, or detected personality changes. Depending on the urgency, I will investigate the issues further or ‘flag them up’. Even if I have a one day general supply cover, I will always give a comprehensive feedback on any concerns to the relevant members of staff. No matter how small, any concern might be important to the bigger picture of a child’s wellbeing.

So far, I have praised the TA’s prior knowledge of the class/students but let us not forget their practical role; helping children who need extra support in completing tasks, supporting teachers in managing class behaviour, supervising group activities, looking after children who have had accidents or helping with the administration of resources.

Some of these tasks can be challenging and I have found that constant communication between the teacher and TA throughout the lesson is key to its success. This is not always a verbal communication, quite often there is a form of gesturing and replies given with head nods or shakes.

A HLTA would take the role to another level. The difference between Teaching Assistants and Higher Level Teaching Assistants (HLTAs) is an increased level of responsibility, for example HLTAs teach classes on their own and cover planned absences. Both are extremely welcome in the classroom.

I would say that having a TA support is much more than just ‘extra pair of eyes’ or ‘ears’ because they directly benefit the target group or individual.

My teaching experience is not limited to being a cover teacher and one benefit of being a regular staff teacher is the ‘sixth sense’ that exists between teachers and teaching assistants. TA’s are exposed to a range of teaching styles and they instinctively know ‘where a lesson is at’, ‘ the next stage’ and even when ‘things are going off course’. This is the result of TA’s getting to know the teachers lesson format, their routines and expectations and unfortunately this foresight can’t be available to a short term supply teacher for obvious reasons.

My most recent placements have been for a year at a time and I can say that I have met some wonderful staff (and students). By being a regular ‘staff’ teacher, the support from TAs was of the ‘sixth sense’ and the students thrived as a result. The mutual respect that exists between the student, TA and teacher is conducive to a happy, learning environment and our students' results bear this out.

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