Amidst the marking, the planning, and the preparation, I have been known to struggle with planning for my teaching assistant. Especially in light of budget cuts, I consider it a privilege to have another adult working in my classroom. When this other adult is not taken into consideration in the planning process or are not involved in the school community, they can be more of a hindrance than a helping hand. I don’t believe this to be any teaching assistant’s fault. Their involvement in lessons, in training and the wider school community needs to be considered by management and teaching staff to ensure they are able to contribute as positively as possible.
For me, one of the most important parts of teachers and assistants working together is the positive relationship between the TA, the students and myself. Here are three ways that I work towards achieving this:
1. Communication via e-mail
Once timetables are in place for teaching assistants and myself, the first e-mail I send contains any information I think they will find helpful throughout the year. This includes a scheme of work, annotated seating plan, any data that I have on the class, and a teacher/TA agreement (outlining my expectations throughout lessons, to be reviewed and signed).
Subsequently, I aim to e-mail the teaching assistant the day before every lesson. I start by clearly indicating in the subject line and first sentence which class we have together. Teaching assistants, from my experience, have even less time than teachers to check their e-mails in a day as they support so many teachers and lessons; I do what I can to make reading e-mails as easy as possible. I outline briefly what the lesson will be about and indicate if there’s anything in particular that I would like them to do. Finally, I attach any relevant files, whether a PowerPoint or worksheet (ideally with answers).
I don’t expect that the teaching assistant will always get to read the e-mail before the lesson and sometimes, to be honest, the e-mail doesn’t even get written. It is, however, a good way of making sure they’re as prepared as possible and it shows that I am taking them into consideration. This can also be useful when a supply teacher covers your lesson as the TA will know the students and what is expected of them.
2. Teaching assistant leads starters or plenaries
One of the biggest challenges I’ve faced with building good relationships between all adults and students in a class is respect. A lot of students don’t give the same amount of respect to teaching assistants as they do to teachers. From the very start of the year, I aim to get the teaching assistant involved in the lesson and give them a leading role. I try to include a starter or plenary in every single lesson that is intended for the TA to lead. I encourage them to ask students follow up questions and really engage with them from the front of the class. Initially, students might find this a bit unusual, but after a few weeks, it becomes normal. Students see that the TA is also in a position of authority, not simply a passive observer at the back who helps with scribing and class work.
Of course, there are times when a teaching assistant is supporting in a subject with which they are not entirely confident. This requires more effort on my part, making sure I prepare them in advance and provide them with the information they need. If they seem unsure of anything as they are leading the starter or plenary, I make sure I am standing at the back of the class, giving a thumbs up, thumbs down, nod, head shake or whatever else will help them along.
3. Get them involved in the conversation
There isn’t enough time in the day to have a proper sit down with the teaching assistant, so I make use of whatever time I can. This is most often at the start of the lesson, during a brief moment as students are working independently, or at the end of the lesson. If I don’t go into the lesson with the intention of starting a conversation with the teaching assistant, it won’t likely happen. It’s a great opportunity, though, to get their perspective on individual students and their progress.
“Getting them involved in the conversation” also means with the students during lessons. I regularly refer to the TA throughout the lesson to get them involved. This could be as a seemingly casual remark such as, “Both Mr Smith and I really enjoy practicing our times tables at the weekend,” or asking them a question during a class discussion like, “Miss, is this how you learned long division when you were in school?”
Having spent some time supporting in lessons myself, I know how long a lesson can feel when you feel invisible, or when the teacher spends a lot of time talking and you spend a lot of time wondering how to look useful in the meanwhile. Get them involved.
Sometimes, it is a lot of work to plan not only for your students but also the support in your lessons. E-mails take time. Designing starters and plenaries for someone else, who might not be a subject specialist, to lead takes time. All of this effort, however, means that there is another adult in my lessons who can effectively support my students’ progress and this is so worth it.