Thursday, 21 November 2013

Secondary teacher Vicki is ROARing her support for TAs

I have been teaching for 13 years. When I first started teaching classroom support was a rare sight - the school I started teaching in had four learning support assistants (the preferred term then) and none of them worked full-time. I remember as a brand new teacher, just a month after my 22nd birthday, feeling on the spot with support in the classroom - that I was being judged by them and that they probably thought I was a bit crap. I soon realised that they are invaluable - even in my first school where we had relatively few students on the SEN register.

I now work in a 'proper' comprehensive, in rural Suffolk. Whilst behaviour is very good within school we have a higher than average number of students on the SEN register, and are lucky enough to have a team of around 10 teaching assistants, who are excellent. 

Over the years I have worked closely with many of them, particularly in the last year when I have taken on the role of teaching Entry Level English, on top of my Geography Subject Leader role. My Year 11 group are great - but it has taken me months to get them where I wanted them due to the nature of their needs (both learning and socially) and I would have never been able to do this without the support of the teaching assistants timetabled with this class.

However they are probably even more valuable to me in my mainstream classes. Two of my Year 11 Entry Level English group also take GCSE Geography - they are in a class where nearly all of the other students will achieve a C or above, with many aiming for A and A*. Despite the demands of the course they manage to keep up in lessons and enjoy the lessons as they have the support of another adult in the room - a level of support that I physically can't give when I am teaching a class of 25 students. 

In our lower school we have many students with very specific needs who are taught in mostly mixed ability classes. In one of my Year 8 classes I have a boy with severe autism who loves the subject and has fantastic knowledge, however he struggles to get anything written down and over feels totally overwhelmed by the amount of knowledge he has. This leads to episodes where he goes into meltdown - but he has the support of a brilliant teaching assistant who can recognise the triggers much more quickly than I can as I am teaching the whole class, and therefore can intervene and stop things from escalating. The same teaching assistant (who wants to become a teacher) also supports me with a Year 7 class. Within this class I have a student with Down's Syndrome who is functioning many years below her classmates, two other statemented students, and four more on School Action Plus. This is a class that I love teaching, however due to their needs I am exhausted after 100 minutes with them. I simply could not teach this class without his support.

In my school teaching assistants go above and beyond their duties for very little re-numeration. They mentor students in their lunch hour, run after-school clubs, prepare resources, run withdrawal groups, lead enrichment activities, ferry students around who go to college on specific days, run some detentions, and feed and toilet those that can't do it themselves. 

In my school teaching assistants are loved by students and are often the only source of stability for these youngsters. If Mr Gove doesn't understand this then perhaps he shouldn't be in his current position. Oh on second thoughts....

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