Most weeks, I read the Guardian’s Secret Teacher article. But last week, I missed it. And I’m quite glad. Today’s piece, written by a Secret TA rather than a teacher, was a response to last week’s article, defending the value of and need for Teaching Assistants. Today’s article made me angry – not in what he or she was saying to defend the role, but that the need for defence had arisen.
This year, I am in the very fortunate position to have a full time TA for my class. I have never had this luxury before – TAs have always had to be shared across the year group. I honestly do not know how I could function without her.
I’m a good teacher. I know that – I’m really good at what I do. But my classroom would not be the place it is if I were on my own. This year, it is difficult to meet the needs of many of my children, whether they be personal, social or academic. We are working harder than we have ever done before – both of us. My TA works just as hard as I do. She is on the door in the morning to speak to parents if they have any concerns. She takes children out of assembly to work through things they weren’t sure of from the previous day. Guidance about who and what usually consists of some names on a post-it note and an objective shouted over my shoulder as I make my way to assembly. She uses her own skill and knowledge to plan activities on the spot to help these children. When lessons begin, again, children and tasks are thrust upon her with little time to contemplate what is being asked of her. Yet she just gets on with it, whilst still managing to seek out those children who need help engaging with the lesson or making the right behavioural choices. Whereas before, she would have been a part of the whole class discussion, now she is expected to lead discussions and teach groups herself from the start of the lesson. She’s had little support in this, but once again, she just does it. At the end of the lesson, there’s an expectation that she marks the work of the children she’s focussed on, and make judgements about assessments – she does as much for the children during lessons as I do as the class teacher. When playtime comes, she has to deal with the inevitable fall outs that happen on a daily basis; she mops up their tears and talks through problems so that I can teach the next lesson.
During the afternoons, she works with individuals on intervention programmes such as Dancing Bears, Better Reading Partners and uses Precision Teaching. All of which she plans herself. And once those are done, she begins the unrelenting task of Focussed Marking Feedback – more one-to-one sessions where areas for development are identified by the children and are worked on with the TAs – more on the spot planning.
And on top of all this, she’s always on hand for last minute photocopying, sticking of plasters, little “chats” with those who need some TLC, dealing with bumps, checking the children are using the toilets appropriately, getting phone calls home for poorly children, finding missing PE kit… the list goes on.
As teachers, I know that all of us in my school are exhausted: demands on us have never been so high because so many changes have taken place. We have never, ever had to work so hard. But nor have the TAs. Their timetables have never been so full, nor so varied, and the expectation of independence and creativity in planning has never been so great. Already, one week in to the term, I’m on my knees, but I know I would be crawling even more slowly without my TA. I also know that many other teachers feel exactly the same way about the people they work with.
We have a school full to overflowing with books, with materials, with technology. But without a shadow of a doubt, our greatest and most valuable resources are our Teaching Assistants.