Let’s show appreciation for our Teaching Assistants | Education Support
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Appreciate our Teaching Assistants

Let’s show appreciation for our Teaching Assistants

27th February 2020

Teachers are great people. They constitute many of my very closest friends. But if we’re really honest, teachers aren’t always the easiest people to be around… this is understandable. The majority of teachers admit to feeling stressed for the majority of the time. And tired. And overworked… (see the 2019 Teacher Wellbeing Index for proof!), and none of us is at our best when we’re tired and stressed. It manifests itself differently for different people. Forgetfulness, distractedness, headaches, snappiness… all are common when stress becomes a regular feature of our working lives.

There are no quick fixes or easy answers, but sometimes STOP, look around, breathe, chat, laugh and reminding yourself you’re human can help relieve the pressure a bit. Today, I challenge every teacher lucky enough to work in the same building as a teaching assistant (TA) to stop and have a chat with them. Ask them about themselves, their lives. Thank them for the thousand things they do to make your life easier every day, and for the invaluable work they do to change the lives of young people. All this for an average of around 13k a year in the UK.

Schools tend to operate in a deeply hierarchical manner – knowing your place in the pecking order is something that most teachers have been reminded of at some point in the career. So there is a danger that the wisdom and experience and commitment of the TAs is sometimes overlooked in schools or worse, that TAs feel ignored and undervalued.

The fact is that most TAs would make superb teachers – many do go on to do exactly that. However most of the TAs I’ve known, whilst working in schools is very much a vocation, do not work in these roles out of choice but because they have numerous other commitments, which begin hours before the start of the school day and end (sometimes with a second or even third paid job) hours afterwards. Perhaps unsurprisingly, most TAs are women. Many TAs have children with special needs, terminally ill loved-ones, their own mental or physical health challenges, which mean that the working hours of a teacher – not to mention the cost in time and money of qualifying  - simply aren’t an option.

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

It is indeed true that the vast majority of TAs I’ve had the privilege of working with are fighting a battle far more intense than my own battles with piles of marking and data entry. And yet, for the most part, TAs always have time for a chat. They always have time to talk about the pupils we share and to offer insights into the best approaches if only we take the time to ask. One of the absolute highlights of my career was working with TAs on a scheme of learning we designed entirely from scratch (the GCSE curriculum wasn’t right for our students) and which revolved mainly around Donald Trump… Many of those young people went on to get an actual grade at GCSE English, and I credit my TAs with this completely.

What has consistently struck me is how much TAs have to give of themselves. Teachers are under so much pressure to demonstrate results that in many schools, many of the other elements of working with young people is delegated to the TAs, from shoelace-tying to tantrum-de-escalation to meeting with some of the most vulnerable parents. TAs take on these duties willingly but often without acknowledgement. With these numerous interactions every single day, the skillset of a TA is considerable, and something that can easily be overlooked.

It’s worth bearing in mind also that TAs often live within the local community have insights into the children’s lives, the culture and the challenges that teachers could really learn from.

‘But you don’t really have to plan, do you?’ I made the mistake of saying to a group of TAs recently. ‘Not unless you count the three hour daily 1:1 intervention that I need to give to children with profound special needs,’ said one. (But you get the materials, yes? Erm, no…) Not unless you count the numeracy and literacy that need to be adapted to a small group of children with wildly varying needs. ‘Not unless you count the preparation that needs to be done before the meeting with the notoriously difficult parent who will only talk to me…’ ‘Not unless you consider that we have no non-contact time’ ‘Not unless you consider that I have to be with the child I work with all day every day – breaks and lunchtimes – and have to find someone to supervise him when I have a week’.

Were they complaining? Not a bit of it. Their pride and joy in their jobs shone through, though they were keen to emphasise that they don’t do it for the money! Teachers and school leaders, I know you’re busy. I know you barely have time for the loo yourselves, but remember the basic human need for appreciation. Remember that support runs in every direction and TAs can provide excellent, empathetic, trustworthy listeners with great life-experience. Stop for a chat if you can. Or make sure you say thanks. And if they say good morning, always remember to say it back!

How we can help 

If you are a teaching assistant are are struggling with your mental health and wellbeing please call our free and confidential helpline: 08000 562561. 

If you are suffering financial problems we may be able to offer support. Please visit our grants page to find out more and apply.