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Q+A with a child support worker

Q+A with a child support worker

Sarah Kean-Price talks to a teaching assistant to find out what educational support work is like on a day-to-day basis. For those interested in how to manage and work with challenging behaviour you should read on!

1. Tell me about your role as a teaching assistant at a primary school

I assist teachers in educating children of reception age; children who are 4 and 5 years old. My responsibilities range from teaching a whole class to supporting small groups, working with individual learners and facilitating child initiated play. My job is based almost entirely in Early Years classes.

2. Run us through an average day for you

My day at work begins around 8am. I will often begin by setting up the outside area, photocopying resources for the day/making sure I am ready for one-to-one support sessions

Children arrive at 8.50 with their parents coming into the classroom to do ‘morning activities’ with their children, like practising name writing for fine motor control.

After this, all teachers and TAs teach a phonics group – with the children grouped depending on which phase of Letters and Sounds they are working in. The other teachers, TAs and I then support children with fine and gross motor activities (like skipping and drawing)

The children then have time for child-initiated activities where the children decide what they want to do and get to access their own resources indoors and outdoors. My job here is to observe their learning. There is then a teacher-led activity for the whole class (either literacy or numeracy) followed by adult-led activities.

During this time, I usually support a small group of children - often those with English as an additional language or with additional learning needs. Having trained in the Better Reading Partners reading scheme, I also spend time reading with the children.

In the afternoon, much of the children’s learning is child-initiated. The children leave at 3.15 but I usually work at after school clubs or attend meetings until 4.15.

3. Did you always want to work in education? Did you always want to be a teaching assistant?

I would not say I always wanted to work in education. I trained as a teacher but did not feel confident in my abilities to cope with the job. It was only when I began working as a TA that I realised that it was something that I wanted to continue doing.

4. Teaching assistant jobs involve some measure of challenging behaviour management - can you tell us a bit more about how this affects your role?

I think that one should expect to manage challenging behaviour when working with children. On the whole, I find the more challenging behaviour quite manageable as I work with a very supportive group of people.

We do have a child who exhibits what I would regard as very challenging behaviour (biting, spitting, climbing and pushing over heavy furniture) and I have been trained in restraining and I would say I have to contain this child once or twice every week.

5. Do you think challenging behaviour management is inevitable in your line of work?

I think it is inevitable with the increasing number of children with challenging behaviour kept not only in school but also in mainstream school.

6. Can you pinpoint anything specific or different about managing behaviour when working with little ones?

Obviously, you need to appreciate how little they are and remember that they were toddlers not so long ago! I think we expect a huge amount from young children at school. Allowing them time to cool off is very important but I also think that this is very important with older children. Having clear rules which are explained or formulated by them is very important as well as clear sanctions if those rules are broken.

7. How can parents help in encouraging good behaviour at school from small children?

Clear sanctions at home and good routines - particularly in terms of sleep and getting enough of it! I find this area difficult as I do not have my own children but I think a nurturing environment is really important- if a child feels miserable when they come to school they are not ready to learn and challenging behaviour often stems from this. Similarly, teaching the basics at home and reading with your child puts them at a great advantage.

8.What are the positives of working in educational support? Why do it?

People don’t say it is rewarding for no reason! You become so connected with the children and have so much invested in their learning - it is wonderful to see them grow as little people.

9. What makes a perfect TA? Who suits this work?

A range of people - particularly those who are flexible, caring, and who have high expectations of learners and colleagues.

10. What do you wish you'd known when you started out?

That your reward is the job rather than your salary! The hourly rate is not too bad but as TAs are not paid for holiday (unlike teachers) your salary can feel very paltry. I feel this especially when working with very challenging behaviour and when teaching.

11. Do you think extra training or qualifications help in both teaching assistant work and working with challenging behaviour?

Yes, definitely. These should be provided as part of your job as you never stop improving in helping learners.

12.What would you say to someone considering a career in this area of work?

Go for it! The rewards in terms of feeling that you are helping children are endless. Also, support your colleagues and they will support you back.

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