My Day as a Teaching Assistant
‘Are you new?’ A pair of Year 3 eyes looked up at me as I attempted to help with lunchtime duty last week in my local primary school. It was a reminder of the refreshing lack of inhibition and pure curiosity in young children. Recently, I spent a day aiming to be helpful and left not only with more understanding of how schools are managing through Covid-19, but with a deeper appreciation for the work of staff supporting teachers.
I had been slightly nervous beforehand. I’d volunteered to help a few weeks ago and had been both looking forward to it while also wondering if I would actually be a help or a bit of a hindrance. I had also had a bit of advice beforehand from various quarters – wear comfy shoes; look after your knees as you will be bending down a lot; and get a good night’s sleep beforehand!
This is stating the extremely obvious, but spending a day helping in a school reminds you again that reading is at the heart of everything.
The school (a primary in south east London) has been through the ups and downs of the last two years like everyone else, and is now grappling with a fairly tight workforce position in a calm and focused manner.‘It is all hands to the pumps, but I’m keeping you out of Reception / Year 1 as a precaution’, said the Head. I did a variety of things: took a high performing Year 6 group for some algebra, listened to a lot of Year 6 and Year 3 readers, helped a bit with a Year 3 presentation on Mount Vesuvius and finished – in full acting mode - with a story to Nursery about a dinosaur who was learning to hug!
I was utterly relieved to miss Year 3 Art, given my limitations in that subject area. It was interesting to see how the school has been adapting to Covid-19: one-way systems, hand washing, limiting adult mixing in school, zoning; the things it had noticed – for example, lockdowns had affected some children’s ability to share with one another; and it was refreshing to be reminded of the essential robustness of young children. The Head was pretty clear that the best solution for any gaps was just to get on with some structured work and look forward. That pragmatism and practicality has obviously been the hallmark of school leadership over the last few years.
This is stating the extremely obvious, but spending a day helping in a school reminds you again that reading is at the heart of everything. We all know that, but when you have listened to about a dozen children of varying abilities read to you in a day, and seen some of them get Maths problems wrong because of not reading the question, you really get it. I also was reminded of how teaching assistants help here, more about strategies for pupil feedback and also about teacher’s workload (‘I work 7.30/8am-6pm five days a week, but not weekends’).
Of course, the Head asked me some good questions about academies, SATs, inspection, pupil places in London and LAs. I then went off to hear about the two types of penguins from Ruby in Year 3. It was a great day, reminding me of some of the strength and resilience of our school system, and I did indeed sleep very well that night!