Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Secrets of a Teaching Assistant: “I’ve Never Seen Kids As Anxious As They Are Today”

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“Last year a child tried to escape and when I intervened, he tried to bite me. He kicked me.’

According to this teaching assistant, who spoke to Nick Duerden on condition of anonymity, it can take up to 20 minutes to free children from their parents in the morning. She has worked in a primary school in south west London for four years and despite the pressure, she loves a job that never gets boring.

“Ask what the difference is between a teacher and a teaching assistant is actually a good question. The longer you do this, the longer you see the roles overlap. Essentially, an assistant supports the teacher and students, mainly in math and English.

You also do lunch duty and supervise the playground. It’s all very simple and you don’t have to initiate much. Also, your work ends at 3:30pm, so your day is done when the bell rings – while of course the teachers then have to do all their corrections that can take up their evenings and weekends, and lots of advance planning. There is a lot of paperwork in the classroom.

I suppose we are the bridge between teacher and student and the aim is to support the teacher by understanding the weaknesses of certain children. So if there is a child in the class who has, for example, an Educational Health Care Plan (EHCP) – which is issued following a referral from a GP to a psychologist – then we support them as needed.

I have a child with an EHCP that I am supporting at the moment and she is coping well with the assignments. Once I know she understands what she’s doing, I fly through the class, supporting other students whenever they need my help.

Many children have many different needs, so an educational plan is created for each one. This means that by law they must have a certain number of hours that we, the assistants, support. Everyone should get about 15 hours a week.

Teaching Assistants don’t exactly carry the teacher, but we definitely help in areas where they may be struggling. And as I said, the longer you do this job, the more responsibility you take on. I am now in a new role and am offering additional emotional literacy support – which was another full year of training on top of my one year teaching assistant training – where you support people with emotional needs and a range of issues including grief, self esteem; whatever the individual child is experiencing. That can be a lot of work, but there’s no pay rise. It’s just as well that I love the job.

Since Covid we have also been asked more and more frequently to cover classes when teachers are ill. Not necessarily math and English, but many other subjects. For that we do get more money. Otherwise our salaries remain low, presumably because we are viewed as “assistants” and not as “real” teachers.

The kids I teach are seven and eight year olds, Grade 3, and while they may not be as problematic as high school kids, there are still a lot of issues. For example, you may have separation anxiety. Not sure if it’s from Covid but we see so much more separation anxiety these days. I’ve never seen it that bad. It can take up to 20 minutes to free them from their parents at the start of the day and then escort them to the classroom. Another girl I am currently supporting recently lost her father. He killed himself and it hit her really hard. She finds it difficult to get into school leaving her other family members to take care of her. And there are many other children too – So many problems. It is so sad.

This job will definitely keep you on your toes. I help run the school’s summer camps, which are available for children with free school meals. Meals, activities and assistance are guaranteed here through August. Last year a child tried to escape and when I intervened he tried to bite me. Then he climbed a fence, and when I reached up to stop him – and keep him from hurting himself – he kicked me.

Of course it’s not always like that, it’s mostly very rewarding and a beautiful environment. You support people, you help, and even when things are negative, you look for how to change it into a positive. That can make it feel like the best job in the world.

I sometimes think about going and getting a better job – a better paying job – but I think I’d get bored. It can never be boring in a school with children.”

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