The role of Teaching Assistant (TA) has been transformed over the last decade or so. The role has been extended and professionalised from the old days of washing up the paints and tacky backing work cards.
Now TAs are involved in teaching 1:1 and in small groups, often through 'Intervention Programmes' for phonics, literacy and maths. Others may carry out speech therapy and physiotherapy with pupils after being trained by the professionals who no longer deliver the programmes themselves. Some act as mentors or counsellors to pupils experiencing problems.
TAs take part in education and training and qualifications such as NVQ :Level 3 or equivalent are required. A recent phenomenon has been graduates taking on the role in order to gain some experience in teaching before undertaking a post-graduate training course.
What they have in common is low pay and usually a 'term-time only' contract. The cliché 'overworked and underpaid' really does apply: along with 'undervalued'. As spending cuts bite and schools look for 'savings' TAs are more easily dispensed with than teachers and Government questioning of their effectiveness doesn't help.
A further strength, often overlooked but one that I valued as a primary headteacher, is that they are usually part of the local community, know the families out of school as well as in school, and are the public face of the school on the street when often, particularly in cities, teachers live some distance away and commute to work.
Now Unison and the website TeacherRoar have launched a campaign to celebrate the contribution of TAs and, based on my experience in schools and the many wonderful TAs that I have seen in action, one that I am pleased to back. @TeacherROAR has been tweeting TA celebratory stories which will culminate in a Day of Celebration of TAs on Friday November 29th. Further information can be found on the Unison website HERE and on the TeacherROAR blog HERE
I am grateful to TeacherROAR and Sarah who normally blogs HERE for permission to reproduce an account of her mornig's work as a Teaching Assistant. Here it is:
I received an email yesterday from my union. I am a member of Unison and the email was to tell me about a day - 29th November 2013 - a day to celebrate Teaching Assistants. Now why would they be wanting to do that? Why celebrate Teaching Assistants? Well, the reason is because if the UK Government has its way there might not be any Teaching Assistants in schools in the future.
Unison is fighting to save Teaching Assistants. The Government has decided that Teachers can do the job of Teaching Assistants. We are an expensive luxury.
So, let me tell you a little bit about my day and you can decide whether I am an expensive luxury and whether my Teachers can do my duties instead.
I am paid, as are my colleagues, from 8.50 am. I actually arrive each day at 8.25 am and start to prepare for my day. I help my Teacher welcome the Year 1 children and look after any of them who are upset or wobbly that day. I am there for any parent who wants to chat. If a parent needs to chat to my Teacher, I take the children in so they don't have to stand in the cold.
I have organised a rota for myself, (in my own time,) so that I can fit in all the children who need extra help. Working from information collated by my Teacher I have organised the children so that all of of them can reach their potential. By 8.50 I have started 1 to 1 work on phonics, handwriting, reading, number work.At 9.05 I bring out my 2nd group for 15 minutes, catching up on phonics, High Frequency Words. During this time the Teacher has taken Register and is into the Phonics session.
All the time I am listening to the lesson in the classroom, ready to go in if needed, because there are children who have Special Needs and I might be needed to sit with them. In Year 1 children very rarely have been statemented yet so there is no funding for 1 to 1 support. Therefore the General T.A (me) has to be there for them.
By 9.15 the Literacy Lesson starts and I either sit on the carpet with particular children to support them or spend time writing up my interventions so far that morning ( because I have to provide evidence of the work done with the children). Then I start checking reading books. I either change them or initial that the record has been checked. When the children go to their tables to work I go with them. I know which table because I have spent time (my own time) reading the Teacher's detailed plans, emailed to me each week.
Most of the time I work with the children who find school tricky. The Teacher and I alternate daily with the groups so that she spends time with all the children. There are children who find it so hard to sit still, concentrate, form letters. I am there to encourage, push, support, explain.
It's amazing the number of ways you can find to explain a single thing! And it's amazing how many children find the simplest thing (to you and me) impossible to grasp. If I or the Teacher wasn't sitting with them they would not know what to do, how to start. One of my greatest skills is patience. To find yet another way to explain something, but to do it with kindness and humour is what I love to do. And at the same time as I am helping this child there are another 5 on the table who need me too.
Of course the Teacher could sit with them ... but what about the other 25 five year olds?
By 10 am its time for Assembly and I keep a group back to read with. I read with every child in the class at least once a week, assessing their skills and giving them tips and encouragement as we go along. Whether that child gets lots of support at home and loves to read or receives minimum support and finds reading hard, hard, hard - I find the way to help them achieve their best, help them enjoy reading. The joy of seeing a child move up a level or get excited about a book is just wonderful.
After break (10 minutes) I read the story while the Teacher reads with another group (they try to read with every child once a week too).
Then it's Maths and the same sort of support as I have given in Literacy. My last group goes out with me at 11.50 for a quick recap on numbers - formation, number lines, counting. Then at 12 it's time for home ...
But we don't go home do we? Most T.As in my school stay and get the jobs done that they couldn't do in the morning...like changing reading books, putting up displays, changing the role play area, filing ... It's a rare day that I go home before 12.35 and some days I stay until 1pm, an hour over my paid time. Obviously this is up to me. It's my choice that I stay, but then that's the sort of people T.As tend to be. We don't do our job for the money, we do it because we love it, love the children.
An ordinary morning is what I have described above. I haven't told you about my playground duties, my chats with children whose parents are breaking up, whose granny has died, who have seen their dad beating up their mum... I haven't told you about the chats with parents who are worried or don't "get" phonics. I haven't mentioned helping children who have wet themselves or been sick everywhere or had a massive nose bleed.
Of course the Teacher could do all these things too. She gets into work at 7.30 and stops for lunch at 12.55 ( 15 minutes break ... soooo lazy!!) then works through until 5.30 when she goes home sorts life out for her own children and then carries on with school work. The thing is though that if she did my job, the things I do, then when would she actually be teaching? Or maybe we should just forget about all the small groups I take out, forget about reading with the children?
There are Teaching Assistants in my school who work 1 to 1 with children who are autistic or have long term illness, children with behavioural problems who, if left to their own devices could be dangerous both to themselves and other children. Without their T.As these children would be lost. As it is, their parents have to fight for help. How could they access education without the care and 1 to 1 support of a Teaching Assistant? T.As deliver physiotherapy programmes, Speech and Language interventions, administer medication...
Teaching Assistants are the unsung backbone of the education system. We work for just over minimum wage and we work because we choose to give our best for the children in our care. In my school the T.As are hard working, intelligent (many are Graduates) and very caring. Often it is the T.A who has the time to sit and listen to a child, who picks up on the underlying problems a child faces. We are part of a team, with our Teachers, trying to create an environment where children can learn and enjoy learning.
Teachers work incredibly hard already. If we were not there to do the things we do then I really hate to think what would happen to the children who need us. Teachers cannot physically do their own jobs and ours. It's impossible. I despair at the short sightedness of the UK Government and their plans.
If you have a child in school then please celebrate how fortunate they are, not only to have Teachers who work their socks off, but also Teaching Assistants who do their best to support, care and guide. It has been a long time since all we did was wash up paint pots.
You can support the campaign by putting a 'Twibbon' on your Facebook or Twitter profile picture. Follow this LINK