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Sunday, 23 February 2014

Classrooms without TAs?

During my sixteen year teaching career I have worked with twelve very professional TAs, both male and female. Although all very different in their skill sets they all without exception worked hard, daily going above and beyond with the hours they worked and activities both in and out of school that they supported.

I am not naive enough to think that all TAs are wonderful, no more than all teachers are and clearly some are better than others but I personally would have had a very different teaching experience without them.  The official description of the role of a TA according to the DfE can be found here what strikes me about the official description is how brief it is compared to what TAs do every day in classes around the country.

The role description also miss out what is for me the' key role' of an effective TA, that of ' riding shotgun' alongside the teacher. This essential role has its own criteria list:
  • A good teacher/TA relationship, an understanding that can best be likened to a classroom marriage
  • Planning together or at least close sharing and input into the planning
  • Trust, trust, trust from teacher to TA and TA to teacher with openness and transparency
  • A sense of humour 
If the teacher and TA are in 'tune' this opens the door for so many teaching and learning opportunities for every pupil in the class. Rather than always supporting small groups (still an important part of the role) the TA works hand in hand, side by side with the teacher, a true team teach situation. Some of my most, dare I say the dreaded word, 'outstanding' lessons have been as a result of this close working relationship with my TA. It takes many forms ranging from 'staged' discussions in front of pupils about calculation strategies in maths, to role plays for History lessons.

I know that some teachers find it hard to relinquish their 'sole teacher role' feeling threatened by sharing planning. They like to keep their TA at arms length and even out of the room as often as possible in some cases. I think this is a real opportunity missed though perhaps it is understandable, teachers are so regularly 'de-professionalised' in the media and by politicians that for them the only thing they have left is to feel in total control in their classroom they need to feel that they can shut their classroom door and keep the beast out and unfortunately the relationship with the TA suffers as a result.

Why have one person directing the teaching and learning when you can have two? Batman and Robin, Morecambe and Wise, Laurel and Hardy, Ant and Dec? Cagney and Lacey? Which dynamic duo are you and your TA like?