At your service

27th June 2003 at 01:00
Classroom assistants can make a teacher's life run smoothly. Value them and use them effectively, writes Paul Blum

Many new teachers are coming to the end of their first year in the classroom. If you shared yours with a teaching assistant or other support staff, did you make the best use of them? Over the next 10 years we are going to see more support staff in the classroom, particularly the highly skilled species the Government is currently creating.

Having another adult in the room is difficult when you're cutting your teeth on classroom management and lesson preparation. Two situations regularly crop up. The first is "embarrassed teaching syndrome", where teachers feel nervous at having another adult around. They feel shy about asking the learning support worker to do as they want. Sometimes the teacher overreacts to pupils, believing the support worker is judging their inadequate behaviour management skills.

Then there is "silent teaching syndrome". The teacher becomes obsessed with getting the pupils to work in silence and indulges in monologues when explaining the work to them. This can leave the support staff frustrated, not knowing how to open the airwaves so they can work effectively with the pupils.

Support staff are a vital resource, but it takes honesty, open-mindedness and clear guidelines to make the relationship work. If you are lucky, your school will cherish their contribution and have a clear policy for making the most of it, supported by regular training and meeting time. Far more likely is that the nurturing of the mainstreamsupport interaction is ad hoc, especially in secondary schools, where it is physically impossible for every relationship to be maintained with a formal meeting very week. Here are some tips to help you get the best out of your support staff.

* Introduce them to the class in the first lesson they work with you.

Stress the importance of the partnership. This will help pupils value their contribution.

* Find time each week to chat about what you are going to do. Ask them to make a particular contribution to your lessons.

* Experiment with strategies to see what works best. The more flexible you are, the more you'll learn their hidden talents.

* Encourage support staff to take the lead and show their initiative.

* Encourage your colleague to help you mark books around the room. Looking out for common mistakes can be helpful for both parties and is a way of raising the status of support with the pupils.

* Assistants can help you while you lead the lesson from the front. They could write key words or summary sentences on the board.

* The essence is about building a positive and trusting relationship.

Establishing a professional bond is about good communication in which clear and sensible boundaries can be set.

Paul Blum is the author of Surviving and Succeeding in Difficult Classrooms (Routledge pound;14.99)

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