First step - Friends or foes?

6th November 2009 at 00:00
Get your relationship with your TA right and they are wingmen; get it wrong and they can be your worst nightmare

What sort of relationship do you have with your teaching assistant? Does your TA feel valued and part of a team or overburdened and left with a problem child or menial tasks?

Your TA is there to enable access to the curriculum and facilitate independent learning. Their role is crucial if pupils are to achieve greater autonomy, higher academic standards and greater social awareness.

New teachers should attempt to develop a mutually beneficial relationship by including them in planning meetings and identifying their training needs, says Georgina Mountjoy, a recently qualified teacher at Portishead Primary School in North Somerset. "It is scary teaching in front of someone who is normally older and more experienced than you," she says. "But once the first few lessons are out of the way it becomes second nature."

At first, you may feel like you are on trial and have a lot to prove. "You can show your TA that you are well organised by having copies of lesson plans for them ahead of time," says Sue Dixon, head of initial teacher education at Goldsmiths, University of London. "Don't be afraid to receive feedback on your plan - for example, if your support worker feels like you are not addressing the needs of their designated pupil."

The key for any new teacher is to develop a relationship that is built on mutual respect. There needs to be recognition that one has to work at developing effective relationships - some happen by osmosis, but others require work.

Mrs Mountjoy quickly developed a good relationship with her TA. "We worked in partnership to support the children and became close friends in the process," she says. "I think it helped that I had previously been a TA because I knew how I had liked to receive instructions and what I had found helpful within my role."

In order to get off to a good start, you should identify what expertise and knowledge each of you can bring to the relationship, suggests Miss Dixon.

"Your TA will, for example, know school systems and routines. They may also know the pupils' names and backgrounds," she says. "This will help you in the initial stages when you are trying to plan your lessons and build a rapport with the class."

TAs should not be used to rid the classroom of a problem child or to do all the menial tasks. "Remember that most TAs are now highly trained and may have specialised knowledge on an area of the curriculum as they may have gone on training," says Miss Dixon. "If your support worker is linked to one child, they will be well versed in that child's needs and condition. A genuine interest in what they can tell you should go down well."

Little gestures can also help to build a good working relationship. When giving praise to pupils who have worked hard or who are sitting well, you could ask the TA in front of the class who they think deserves recognition.

Edward Sharpe, a recently qualified teacher, had difficulties with his TA from the offset. "We disagreed on teaching strategies. I wanted to try out new things, while she preferred a more traditional approach," he says. "I tried to take her aside for a diplomatic discussion, but we just did not see eye to eye."

If you find that the relationship - despite your best efforts - is still not working, seek advice from another teacher who may have worked with the TA, says Miss Dixon. "Try not to turn it into a moaning session about your TA," she says. "Your NQT mentor may also be a useful source of advice and your last resort should be the senior management of the school."


- The role of a TA is crucial if pupils are to achieve greater autonomy and higher academic standards.

- It is important to make an attempt to develop a mutually beneficial relationship by including them in planning meetings and identifying their training needs.

- Don't be afraid to receive feedback on your lesson plan.

- Identify what expertise and knowledge each of you can bring to the relationship.

- Ask your TA for advice in front of the class to show that you are working together.

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