The many facets of being a Teaching Assistant

On Friday, 16th September 16th 2022 we will be celebrating the National Teaching Assistants’ Day. The role of a teaching assistant varies from school to school – some TAs are supported and utilised effectively whilst others are expected to undertake the role and responsibilities of a qualified teacher or assigned to the most vulnerable pupils with additional needs. Our very own Account Executive, Amie, shares her views based on her past roles as Teaching Assistant and Teacher and now as a PR working within the education sector. This is what she said:

What led you to becoming a Teaching Assistant?

As an undergraduate I studied Psychology with Education for three years. After graduating I bolstered my learning with a couple of years working in educational policy and wanted to back this up with some tangible classroom experience. Fortunately, a position popped upat a secondary school and sixth form college near to where I was living, giving me the perfect opportunity to gain valuable insight and put some of my knowledge to use. Within a few back and forth messages on Twitter with the headteacher, and a follow up interview with their SENCO, I was able to start that very September for the new academic year. I was over the moon to start my first role outside of academia..

Can you talk us through some of your favourite moments as a Teaching Assistant?

Oooh, that’s hard – there are so many! Some stand outs for me include observing a sixth form student achieve amazing results as part of her hairdressing course, despite having a visual impairment. It was a real privilege to be part of her journey. It inspired me to rethink the way I looked at pupils with additional learning needs and how we could break down barriers, overcome challenges and boost aspirations all round. She taught me so much. Her fearlessness was contagious. She was an avid Youtuber and followed other visually impaired creators to motivate, inspire and inform her school work.

I worked across the school, in all subjects and year groups, and so I was fortunate to collate some amazing memories with a range of students I will never forget. From science experiments to geography trips and structuring historical essays, every day was different.

We also supported pupils in their most pressurised moments such as exams with transcription, revision and interventions. Watching pupils I supported gain confidence and achieve incredible outcomes was the icing on the cake and seeing them celebrate with their peers and families on results day was the cherry!

What did you learn through being a Teaching Assistant?

Being a Teaching Assistant is such a varied role and there will be differences depending on the type and size and culture of the school.. For example, I chose to work in a large secondary school because I wanted to learn about different subjects and age groups and find a potential specialism.. Others may choose to work in a smaller setting and really get to know a smaller group of pupils and teachers so that they can have a bigger impact from day one. Both routes and settings will give you invaluable experience and you will gain an excellent range of skills. Teaching Assistants will often have degrees or education specialisms and skills. In my experience the majority are driven by a passion for education and wanting to help as many children as possible. I often held 1:1 and small group meetings with specific children and their families to push their learning forward, helped with breakfast club and after-school club, and worked with teachers to devise effective interventions and support for their pupils. I learnt so much about inclusion, diversity and safeguarding and I have taken this forward into my future roles. It all started with being a Teaching Assistant!

What do you think the role of the Teaching Assistant should be?

The role of a Teaching Assistant is to support the qualified classroom teacher to enable the best learning provision for every pupil. They are educators and they should be driven by their desire to support better outcomes for all. The role is varied, and each school will have its own job descriptions, but it should not be confused with the role of a teacher. It is unfair to expect a teaching assistant that is less qualified, supported and remunerated financially to fulfil the role of a qualified classroom teacher. Teaching assistants are not paid to work outside of their classroom hours. That said, as I’ve already mentioned above, teaching assistants will have varying degrees of experience and qualifications and schools should be at liberty to tap into this experience and further extend their learning if they wish to specialise in areas such as SEHM for example.

What is your one wish for Teaching Assistants’ working in schools today?

My one wish is quite simple, I believe Teaching Assistants and support staff that work in schools such as administrators, coaches, kitchen staff, cleaners and others, deserve to be celebrated, recognised and supported in their roles. They deserve to be paid appropriately for all the extra work they often do for their settings and the children and communities they serve. I’m so glad there is a national day for Teaching Assistants and I encourage all schools to celebrate their support staff year-round. Their contribution has such a positive impact on students and staff.

To find out more about our the way we work in education, care and charitable sectors, and our wonderful partnerships with strategists and advisors, follow us on Twitter @PapillonComms and follow Amie on @AmiePapillonPR