10th July 2009 at 01:00
Problem: The teaching assistant in my class has been at the school a long time and lets the pupils get away with murder. How can I get her to discipline them more?

Low-level disruption is something most teachers have to deal with frequently, and if they don't deal with it straightaway it can easily lead to something more serious.

Many teachers rely on teaching assistants (TAs) to provide support by being their eyes and ears - not to mention an extra hand should things escalate.

But regardless of whether you're a teacher or a TA, dealing with a group of pupils is not always trouble free - especially if you haven't had the proper guidelines on how to handle specific behaviour. This relationship takes many forms, but essentially the clue is in the name: the TA assists the T, says Tom Bennett, the head of religious studies and philosophy at Raine's Foundation School in Bethnal Green, east London.

This means that the teacher must be first in the classroom - their rules and wishes must predominate. "Because of this necessary relationship, the TA must tread a tender line between asserting their rights as an adult and a professional, and subtly deferring to the dominant figure of the teacher," he says.

It is therefore normal for the teacher to set the behaviour ground rules, and the TA to collaborate in enforcing them. "It is rare, but not impossible, for the TA to have a firmer line than the teacher," Mr Bennett says.

What isn't useful is when the TA undermines the teacher's boundaries and standards. According to Diane Carrington, a former teacher and teacher trainer, the two need to talk to each other like professionals. "The language used in this scenario is very emotive," she says. "The teacher needs to calm down and move away from these feelings." She adds that there then has to be a discussion around dealing with difficult behaviour in the classroom. "The teacher needs to share his or her good practice and what strategies they should use."

However, instead of forcing a plan on the teaching assistant it should be thrown open, says Paul Dix, a former teacher and now managing director of behaviour management specialist Pivotal Education.

"If you don't involve the teaching assistant at this stage, you can't expect him or her to jump on board," he adds. "You can't just force your own way of thinking. It's not their role to take over - they are there to give support."

Mr Dix believes that the teacher and the TA should agree on what level of intervention the TA should take. "Some are happy with taking on more, while others are only comfortable with a written warning that is then passed on to the teacher." In this case, however, there could be a number of reasons why the TA allows the children to `get away with murder', says Nicola Morgan, teacher and behaviour consultant.

According to her, it is important to remember that not many people like to be corrected, however tactfully it is done. For this reason, a whole- school approach encouraging participation from all staff is essential to achieve the desired goal.

"In this particular case I would organise a workshop with teachers and teaching assistants to update and review the school's behaviour policy and classroom management strategies," she says. "Staff would be placed in small groups to generate maximum participation and this particular TA would be encouraged and guided by her class teacher to put forward her ideas."

Miss Morgan highlights that this process not only ensures their understanding of what is expected but also creates ownership, encouraging them to apply the agreed strategies within the classroom. "Once all strategies are revised and agreed upon I would observe how they are implemented in each class, giving positive feedback and guidance where required to instill confidence, motivation and consistency to ensure long term classroom management," she says.

The teacher and TA then need to touch base once in a while in order to re- establish guidelines, and check that each party is fulfilling their end of the bargain, Mr Bennett adds. "After all, perhaps the teacher needs to consider if the TA is simply adopting a friendlier approach?" Although the teacher needs to set the tone, we can all learn from each other, he says

Next week: Sick parent

DO .

. Set the rules about acceptable behaviour in the classroom - with pupils and your TA.

. When laying down the law with the class you need to explicitly communicate that the TA is part of the teaching team, and to be treated with the same courtesy that any member of staff should expect.


. Expect the TA to become the teacher.

. Force discipline on them - but instead what they are comfortable with.

. Expect it to turn around immediately.

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