Saturday, 23 November 2013

Celebrate Teaching Assistants ... we might not be here for much longer.

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.

Its amazing the number of ways you can find to explain a single thing! And its 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 its 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 its 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 changing reading books, putting up displays, changing the roleplay area, filing ... Its 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. Its 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. Its 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.


Anonymous said...

Well said, I too am a teaching assistant an am very proud. We deserve much more credit than the Government are prepared to give us. Please come and do our jobs for a week and you will realise the difference we make.

sarah at Secret Housewife said...

Thank you so much for commenting. I really feel we need to be heard before its too late. I would love to see Mr Gove try and do my job !

Tina @ Girl-Meets-Globe said...

The little I've observed since living here I've seen the teaching assistants play a vital part in my children's classroom. It's a shame that they would see their role as a luxury!

sarah said...

I honestly believe that our school couldn't run without T.As. The thought of sacking them is scary. Thanks for commenting Tina x

Kerrie McGiveron said...

What a really thought-provoking post. To say I'm not a fan of Gove would be putting it politely. My husband is a teacher in a secondary school and as we have a young family - it can get so stressful, and almost certainly puts a strain on our home-life with the hours he keeps. I don't really know what he would do without the TAs and the support that he does get. I used to work in the same school in admin, so I know the work that goes in by the TAs. I used to liaise with them daily regarding the children - the passion and the hard work was plain to see. I hope that this government is voted out before any irreparable damage is done to our schools and education system as it is xxx

joy said...

Anyone who has worked at any time in any school will understand exactly what you are saying, why the he** doesn't he try it before ruining the opportunities for thousands upon thousands of children to receive an education which they otherwise would not have. So short-sighted as to be unbelievable. It's such a shame that these days it's only money that counts.

Sarah said...

Thank you Kerrie and Joy. It seems the only people who think axing T.As is a good idea are those in right wing think tanks and the lovely Michael Gove. To get rid of 230, 000 jobs would be catastrophic for all involved, but for the children it would be disastrous.
Thank you for commenting. X

Kara Segedin said...

Yes, yes and yes. Such an undervalued (and, I'm sure, underpaid) role. Way back when I was at school my mum volunteered as a TA & I know she made a real difference to kids who just needed that little extra bit of attention.

Sandra said...

My son has Autism, is in year 2 and has always had a dedicated 1-2-1 to support him in school. Without that support he wouldn't be getting any sort of education at all. So as far as I am concerned, TA's are worth their weight in gold. x

Caz said...

Hi Sarah, Your job sounds exhausting yet rewarding. We could do with some TA's over here. I don't think TA's or teachers are given the credit they're due!

Anonymous said...

Well, it does seem that UK children are currently enjoying a not so common standard.
I'm writing this from Belgium. There are method schools here like Steiner and Freinet and they work with teaching assistants from what I know. I don't think regular schools (Catholic, public) do this after the age of 5/6 any more.
I do hope that your positions as TAs can be preserved because I've seen the kids at method schools and though their school reports aren't spectacularly different from what's achieved at regular schools, they appear to me to be emotionally healthier.

Hilary Roberts said...

I've really enjoyed reading your article, and would like to endorse all that you have said - I have seen first hand how hard all you TAs work at school. I have been in to school as a parent volunteer twice every week since my boys started school. I am constantly amazed at how involved I have been allowed to get, particularly when it comes to helping out with the children who need extra help and supervision. It is very rewarding for me, but it seems it is essential for the teachers (particularly in the afternoons when they generally don't have a TA to help). The teachers really could not manage without TAs, and the children would be worse off for not having them. I trust that Mr Gove sees sense … we can but hope!

Mummy Plum said...

My son started school in September and I have been utterly impressed by the TA for his class - she is amazing. I would hate to think how the class would cope without her valuable support. I wasn't aware of these proposals before I read your post - very worrying indeed.