There’s a certain amount of support staff snobbery around yet, despite the elitism, it can often be the support staff in a school who make teachers look good.
Admittedly, when I was newly qualified, I used to hate having support staff in my classroom, but it was purely due to my own lack of self-confidence. Jo had been in the job for years and I was sure (and still am) that she was much more adept at explaining concepts to those with complex additional needs than I was.
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The stress, which came from my anxiety that the support teacher would tell everyone in the staffroom that my lessons were boring, was almost too much to bear. Now that I feel confident in my teaching and understand the ebb and flow of a lesson, a topic and a scheme of work, now that I understand that there are so many ups and downs during a year, I welcome the support in my classroom. After all, these colleagues make my life much easier and I know they are not there to judge.
Support staff make life much easier
Perhaps I’m lucky; maybe I’ve been blessed with the crème de la crème in additional support needs auxiliary support, but, genuinely, when I know there is another person in the room to help the students, I’m grateful.
I often find that the relationship that my support colleagues have with the students they work with is productive and positive; they give their time in a way that I can’t and that pays off for all three of us. A quiet rephrase of the instructions or someone to read the questions can be all it takes for a struggling student to access a lesson. A reassuring verbal nudge can be all it takes for a child to respond and to begin to enjoy their learning and the support teacher can help you cover more ground.
We have a lot in common with the additional support needs auxiliaries who we work with. The same is happening to some of them as has happened to teachers for many years; they can be asked to undertake tasks which are not in their remit and which they are simply not paid to do. There needs to be a delicate balance; we must treat them as the professionals they are and yet we can’t expect the support staff to teach the child or take on extra responsibility. If they are sent to work with the student in a separate room, especially for an extended period of time, then that’s not fair.
Unlike teachers, they don’t have such a stable platform to contest this from, though. Their role is constantly under review, it’s often the first budgetary cut that is made and yet there are nowhere near enough support staff to cope with the amount of students who would benefit from additional help.
Sometimes, support staff can be so good at fitting in with how you work. They often melt seamlessly into the landscape of the class and I am absolutely guilty of taking them for granted. It made me think, though, when a teacher friend couldn’t name the man who was with her twice a week with an S3 class. When does absent-mindedness become unkindness?
They may not have the marking, planning or responsibility that a teacher has, but support workers certainly deal with challenging behaviour, often the most challenging, and need to be emotionally resilient as well as confident in a range of academic subjects.
So, this is my thank you for giving the child the nudge when my attention is elsewhere, for providing good humour and professionalism in tricky situations and for helping me, as well as the students, because I don’t say it enough.
Sam Tassiker is a secondary teacher in Scotland