Hail the heroes

11th April 2008 at 01:00
Are you getting the most out of your teaching assistant? Sara Bubb tells you how

Who's your best friend at school? Many would say their teaching assistant (TA) is the person they're closest to. As a group, these people are unsung heroes and have a massive effect on children and teachers.

It's important to know exactly what they're paid to do and then discuss the realities of that. What's your TA's job description? What are you happy for a TA to do? For instance, as a teacher you can ask a TA to put up displays, but some teachers can't bear to see a display done less than perfectly. Certainly, someone in the school should be able to do photocopying, but that might not be your TA's role.

You need to work as a team and be consistent in your rules and routines to support each other. Some children need lots of attention, so using a TA to see to them allows you to get on with teaching. The key to an effective partnership includes good communication, a clear idea of expectations and mutual respect. Often they are under-directed. Sometimes TAs don't know where to sit. Try to explain the rationale behind things - remember they haven't benefited from the educational training that you have.

If there are things that are bugging you, think about how to tackle them. Don't let them niggle away at you or one day you'll snap and probably ruin your relationship. Find out what they're comfortable and experienced in - and what they're not. Don't ask them to sing a verse of a song in front of the class unless you've briefed them, and certainly don't wait for the school trip to realise that they have a scarily laid-back approach to helping children cross the road.

How do you brief them before a lesson? Involve them in the planning so that they understand what you are doing and why - and they're bound to have good ideas, too.

Even marking can be done by TAs if they're fully trained on how to do so. Investing time in them pays huge dividends - and when you build up trust they can give you valuable feedback on your teaching

Sara Bubb is an education consultant specialising in induction.

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