Teaching assistants – Every teacher needs them!

Last week we looked at the roles of a secondary teacher. This week we will be looking at the roles of the teaching assistant, also known as the TA. I’m going to put it forward straight away now and say that I believe every classroom ‘needs’ a teaching assistant. The role of the teaching assistant is to aid the teacher and help with making the classroom run smoothly. But teaching assistants do sooooo much more than that. Throughout my teaching career I have witnessed teaching assistants mark books and reading records, double up as support for children with learning difficulties, hand out worksheets and do prepping such as cutting gluing and sticking, room decoration. Prepare the children for PE. Work on playground duty, dinner duty, even teach the class here and there too! Teaching assistants are gold dust. It is vital every classroom teacher has a TA to help tie up the loose ends and enhance the children’s learning. Teachers do struggle with the workload set over the course of the schooling year and having a TA be there not just as a help but as a support can really make a difference. Schooling budgets can limit teachers having teaching assistants, but as the classroom environment changes, with SEN, EAL and other unclassified or undiagnosed children entering the classroom, I really believe that help should be provided. SENCOs are not always available and within a struggling profession for staff, the teaching assistants, offer support and help to struggling situations. I could write pages and pages on the benefits of having teaching assistants in the classroom, but I’m going to leave you with an article that I found on TES website instead.

‘Why do teaching assistants not get appropriate recognition?’

Colin Harris

29th June 2016 at 12:46

When highly trained, teaching assistants support the progress of so many of our children, especially the most challenging. Why don’t we celebrate them more, this primary headteacher asks

How lucky I was to be able to attend the TES Schools Awards evening last Friday. It was an amazing evening and truly heartening to be able to celebrate the success of so many of our schools across the country. The quality represented was awe-inspiring and I was left with the feeling that I had been part of a very special night.

While thinking about the awards, however, I began to think of the group within our schools that we just do not celebrate enough: the teaching assistants.

We now have 240,000 teaching assistants across the country, doing so many different roles. They provide the backbone of every school, representing stability, hard work and what is really good about our education system.

Enormously positive impact

Do we as a teaching profession celebrate what they afford to us all? I think not. Certainly, the government does not realise the breadth of skills these members of staff possess and the extra value they provide for little cost – and the fact that they create an enormously positive impact in all our educational establishments.

When highly trained, teaching assistants support the progress of so many of our children, especially with basic skills. Through their ability to build relationships with the most difficult of children, they also facilitate pupil engagement and ensure that many more children access the curriculum. This, in turn, allows teachers to focus on other aspects of the curriculum, whether more creative or practical activities, or spend more time with the pupils – actually teaching. Can you imagine what lesson time would be without them? Certainly, the end result is that teachers are more supported and less stressed.

Teaching assistants also enable more team-teaching situations. They promote a more inclusive approach, which is necessary to enable every child to feel valued and supported. And what a wonderful asset they are when we work with parents. That difficult pupil calms down when they come across the TA with whom they have a special bond.

Not just a mums’ army

I know that many of you will be agreeing with these sentiments. So why, I ask, do teaching assistants not get appropriate recognition? They certainly deserve so much more money than they get at present.

But, more importantly, they need acknowledgment of the vital role they play in our schools. We know that too many government minsters still see them as some sort of mums’ army, backing display boards and photocopying. Such days have long gone, folks. Teaching assistants now have a career structure and many train to be teachers. Their influence in schools is enormous – instrumental in establishing independence in our children, developing learning skills and often being the lead person in delivering intervention strategies. All in all, we cannot now do without them.

Of course, we still need to ensure they receive appropriate training. We also need to ensure they receive support in respect of the job they do. And, vitally, we need to ensure their part in all our schools is appreciated.

Ripple effect

May I offer a suggestion to our wonderful profession just before the summer holidays? Why don’t we all go in tomorrow and tell our TAs how much we treasure them and how vital they are to us? If every school does, then the ripple effect would be felt across the country. We would also be challenging those who do not appreciate TAs‚Äô worth.

I certainly know that my school would not be as successful as it is without them. What about your school?

Colin Harris is headteacher of Warren Park Primary School in Havant, Hampshire 

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Please feel free to comment with your views on any of the above mentioned.

Andy T