In the eyes of many primary school children most of the adults that they encounter within the school environment are quite simply, their teachers. The children will be sure to have a favourite ‘teacher’ regardless of the qualifications held by the adults. Of course, roles for teachers and teaching assistants, or teacher aides, have distinct differences but this should never impact on the quality of care and education that each child receives. The roles of teacher and teaching assistant (TA) should work harmoniously together to make sure that quality and consistency remain at the heart of teaching.
Many British Primary schools recognise the value of investing time, support and training into their TAs and the benefits that this brings. This is particularly true of the teachers that they provide support for in the classrooms. Schools should hold the value of TAs with high regard and match this with training opportunities for them to further their own professional development. Innovative senior leadership teams within schools often involve support staff in the performance management cycle as this recognises the worth of the role and the benefits this brings of self review and improvement. This can have highly effective results and can work well when planned alongside performance management reviews for the teaching staff. Each member of staff becomes clear of their own targets and thus the whole school performance improves.
The role of a TA can vary greatly from school to school but some common traits remain true regardless of curriculum, country or age of the children. Many TAs will help with behaviour in the classroom, they may also help to create and maintain teaching resources or they might lead intervention work in small groups or with individual children. These are only a few suggestions of the many varieties of tasks that any teaching assistant will be required to carry out daily. Primary schools may often call upon their TAs to create beautiful displays of work, help with setting up the classroom for the day or providing a kind word and a listening ear when children need it. Whatever the requirement is, a good TA is a crucial support to both the teacher and the teaching within the classroom.
There seems to be little advice on how to develop the relationship between a teacher and a TA who work together but some of the most effective strategies come from the partnership developing through professional discussion. Open communication and clear expectation on both sides often makes for a stronger working team and planning lessons together is a great starting point. It is good, working practice for a teacher to involve the TA in planning where possible and even though the teacher should plan for the lessons in the main, a TA will often have excellent ideas to input. TAs will also be able to share outcomes from intervention work that they have delivered and this in turn will feed into the assessment and monitoring of learning.
TAs hold a truly valuable role in schools and training opportunities should be open for them to lead their own professional learning. Many schools enable TAs to continue with vocational courses while working in the school so that they are able to develop and improve on their practice. Schools might also welcome students who are training to come into the school and carry out a ‘placement’ as part of their study requirements. This on going support for personal growth and development allows for professionals to share their good practice with each other and give or seek guidance as required. The ratio of adults in the classroom increases which supports the learning and so has an overall positive effect and is beneficial to all.
As a teacher, I was fortunate enough to have been supported by TAs in most of my classrooms and I have learnt many things from each of them. Each were quite different in their practice but shared many characteristics and I was very lucky to have worked alongside them. In retrospect, I hope they realised the value that they brought to the classroom and I hope that I thanked them often enough for it!