Joy Senanayake, 73, is a teaching assistant at St Anne's RC Primary School, Birmingham. She takes `Wake and shake' classes most days and mentors younger staff
- What do you like most about your job?
One of the greatest pleasures is working with children who come in with very little and being able to work with them in a small group, and then to see them come out at the end with a great deal. To see tiny little steps and then see the bud slowly opening . these are the kind of wonderful, developmental things that I can see in children that I've had a lot to do with. I've been here on and off for 20 years and it's become like a family, rather than school. The religious life and everything has all become part of my day, which I really enjoy. Somebody asked me when I was going to retire, and I said: "When I grow old."
- What's your single biggest achievement?
There was one particular girl who wasn't really expected to do very much - she was working at level 1 (lowest attainment level) and now she's leaving Year 6 with a level 5 in her Sats. She used to kick and scream and wouldn't come into school. I used to say to her: "Come on, we're not going to class. Let's go and paint," as she was very good at art. I'd have already set up a painting session outside and she'd come and paint. And when she was ready, she'd come into class. This particular girl had emotional problems as well as learning problems. We sorted those and she has just blossomed since then. It is really important to spend time getting to know what's going on at home. I think it's about having a trusting relationship as well.
- What do you think is the main role for TAs?
The job is to be the best support you can for the teacher you're with and look at their needs. It's important to try to see where you can be a support for them.
I have a programme called Springboard for children who are lagging behind in maths and we have one for English as well. I take a group of eight children out of the class, and teach them separately myself. This backs up work that's being done in the classroom. I take out groups like this throughout the year and these are the children who you can see really developing with that bit of extra teaching.
- What's a typical start to your day?
I come in early at 7am and get everything ready. People ask me why, but I'm just an early riser. I think it's important to have tables ready for children, so that when they come in they're not looking for a sharp pencil and making a fuss. For the teacher as well, it's important to get everything ready: the board, the date and the computer on the right setting.
- What's the biggest issue in education and how do you think it should be tackled?
There are too many things that change all the time. That's always an issue. You get something going and can see it working and then somebody at the top decides that everything's going to change.
At the moment we're going back to basics with things like phonics, which I think is important. You might have some children who have come through three classes, but when you assess them, they don't actually know the basics and you have to go right back.
- You spent a long time working as a volunteer with Canossian nuns. How does your faith inform your teaching?
I try to do God's work every day. I think through doing that you can bring love, kindness and caring to the children, and to the staff as well. My trip into school is about 12 miles and I call it my "prayer route". I try not to be grumpy when I come to school. I think it's important to come in with a smile and not pass anything grumpy on to anyone in the school.
- Are you worried about the young?
Yes, I do think there are problems. Again, we're very lucky in this school. We still have problems, but it's not like many schools who have children that constantly fight.
I think a lot of it is down to the breakdown of families, which is so sad. So many children are brought up just by their mothers. We have a school and family worker here, which is helpful. I also think that having male teachers in junior schools is important, because of a lack of father figures at home.
- If you were Schools Secretary for the day, what would you do?
I think it's important to always have enough money to care for the less able children in school. Sometimes, if budgets fall, then you need to look at staff. There was a situation a while ago where I was almost going to have to go - instead I worked shorter hours for a time. If you have needs within the school, you should have enough money to fund staff who can deal with that. If not, all those children would be lost.
- What's the worst excuse you've ever heard?