Lyn Owen, 49, has worked her way up the ladder, but claims she fell into her vocation by accident. She is a senior teaching assistant at Lathom high school in Skelmersdale, Lancashire "I have two grown-up children," she says. "Sally, my daughter, is also a teacher. I went to a comprehensive school in Millom in Cumbria, but I left when I was 16. I worked as a dental nurse and then as a GPO telephonist; then the children came along.
"I became a teaching assistant by accident. A part-time job was going in my local primary school, helping to support a girl with cerebral palsy. It was a lovely job. I was part of a great multi-disciplinary team. I studied for my nursery nurse qualification. And when the girl moved up to secondary school, I moved up with her. She's 18 now. She's a very special person. I feel privileged to know her.
"Gradually my job has changed. I've been a special needs assistant, a learning support assistant, and now I'm a senior teaching assistant. I mentor newly appointed teaching assistants and help them find their way through all the systems and routines of a busy school. I help teachers with their displays, as well. I've recently applied for a specialist teacher assistant training course.
"My main task is to provide in-class support - mainly in English and French. That began when I stood in for a teacher who was on sick leave. I thought it would be only for a day or two, but it turned out to be for two terms. I had two Year 11 classes, kids with a lot of problems. I just made sure they all finished their coursework. I wanted them to do well. It was usually a paragraph at a time, but we got there in the end. And they all got results.
"I sometimes wonder about doing proper teacher training. My headteacher says I should. I'm not so sure as I know how much is involved. But I did my maths and IT GCSEs this year, so it's a start.
"I love coming to work. It's a caring atmosphere and the staff here are very friendly - and I still see the teachers from the primary school.
"And if I meet Estelle Morris at the Teacher of the Year Awards? I'd tell her she's on the right lines as far as teaching assistants are concerned - but that there's got to be proper training and a proper career structure. The senior teaching assistant course could be the first rung of that ladder."
Interview by Michael Duffy. The Teaching Awards 2002 national ceremony will be shown on BBC1 on Sunday, November 3. For further information and to register your nomination for 2003, visit www.teachingawards.com.