When I started my first job in 1983 in a deprived infant school in Hackney I had a class of thirty 5 year olds. It was common practice then to work on your own. Support teachers were unheard of and the only help I got was on Thursday afternoons when an elderly woman would come to take away my paint pots for washing . Her other jobs around the school were dinner and playground duty.
During the last 30 years I have seen classroom support develop and expand enormously from this limited, though still vital role, to one, which has a central place in the classroom alongside the teacher. The names these workers have been given indicate that change, from dinner lady, helper, classroom assistant to teaching assistant and learning mentor.
The job of teaching assistant still entails doing the basic tasks that keep the classroom going, but also requires them to take on a teaching role. TAs have, for a long time now, supported small groups of children in a wide range of activities and tasks across the curriculum, and helped individual children with learning, behaviour or physical difficulties. The job titles may have changed but the rates of pay for these workers have remained low and do not reflect the range of skills and expertise they are expected to have.
Over the years I have worked with excellent TAs and we have developed real working partnerships. TAs have enabled me to increase what I can achieve with the children far beyond what was possible in 1983. They give me valuable insights both into my teaching methods and the children’s’ responses and progress. TAs have an essential role in dealing with minor or major crises that occur in your classroom. They nurture the children in general, and provide continuity of care in the class when teachers are called away.
But their importance goes beyond the classroom. TAs are usually recruited from the school community, most often being parents or grandparents of the children. This provides valuable links with the local area. Bridges have been built between school and home, differences in language and culture have been understood or overcome by these connections, and the benefits to the school, and especially the children, have been enormous.