Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with my job. In fact it’s a really good job,but I really don’t want to be a teaching assistant for the rest of my working life, but more about that in a while. Rubbish pay aside, which is no fault of the school I work in, I am really lucky to have a job that ticks all of the boxes and of course for having a job in the first place. I work with a great group of people, many whom have become good friends. A very supportive headteacher who puts her staff’s well-being high up in her list of priorities and the children are just brilliant even when they are being right pickles and no two days are ever the same. Each day brings something new and is never ever boring. Of course there is the added bonus of lots of holiday although I don’t get paid for most of them. In all honesty,since the boys finished their schooling, having the fixed holiday dates can be a bit of a pain.We still have to take our summer holiday in peak season and great as it is, I really don’t need so much time off. But hey, who am I to grumble, there are plenty of people who would love to have five weeks holiday in the summer, especially those working parents who have to contend with the nightmare of finding childcare for the duration.
I became a teaching assistant in 1999 because like for many other teaching assistants, the hours meant my working day coincided with the children’s school day and holidays.I could have returned to nursing but living miles away from a hospital and a husband who was often working away meant that option wasn’t possible. Way back then the TA’s job description was very different from the one we have today. I was pretty much a parent helper who got paid for mostly washing glue and paint pots and listening to children read. Within a few years though my responsibilities changed and although paint pot washing still needed to be done, my focus was very much centred on supporting children in their learning and I started to take intervention groups especially after attending college for a year to study how to support children in literacy and numeracy. I absolutely loved my job in our very small school in a picturesque village in Kent. The children enjoyed coming to a school that still followed traditions going back donkey years such as May Day celebrations complete with a maypole and a May queen. With the church next door, all of the children took part in the nativity there and many a parent shed a tear when their children read from the pulpit at the end of year leavers assembly. In the summer a huge field doubled up as a playground where dens could be made or butterflies chased, and an open air swimming pool meant that the children got to swim every day.
It was a great wrench for me and the boys when we had to move to Swindon. I knew I would really miss Mrs Button, the teacher I had worked with from the start. We were a great team and she had taught me much. Twelve years on and we still keep in touch which is really lovely. My youngest sometimes found the school environment difficult despite being very bright, but all of the teaching staff understood his little foibles and gave him a lot of support and helped him when he became anxious. He never forgave me or his dad for taking him away from where he felt understood and secure.
So, swiftly moving forward in time, here I am, the second eldest TA in a modern school surrounded by housing estates and retail parks. We have about 525 children attending which will increase to 630 in three years time. It’s a whopper of a school! As teaching assistants our role plays a bigger part in children’s learning than ever before. Our input is valued, we contribute with planning and implementing and we have the ability to teach if a teacher for some reason or other isn’t in the classroom for a short period. We are jacks of all trades. We use our creative skills one minute, mop up accidents the next. Comfort an unhappy little person by being a ready lap to sit on, and tick off those who decide not to follow The Golden Rules! We file and photocopy, laminate and sharpen pencils galore. We put on silly costumes, wear silly hats and do silly dances. Occasionally we get time to stop, sit down and drink a few sips of tea.
Yes it is a really rewarding job, and I actually enjoy going in every day but I’m worried that I’ll reach an age when my working life is over (which at the rate they keep changing when you can claim your pension won’t be until I am well into my seventies) and I wouldn’t have had a chance at doing something different. In my fantasy world I would own a coffee shop that would be much more than a place that served great food and coffee. It would a place where groups could meet, films could be shown, a pop up supper club venue maybe. But that’s unlikely to happen. It’s a pipe dream, but hey ho, everyone can dream! So failing that I hanker after working in a deli or an artisan bakery. Or teach children to cook, or prepare food and serve in a coffee or tea shop. Basically, I’d like to work where good food takes centre stage. Maybe it’s already too late and I’ve missed the boat. Maybe I’m going to have to be content with my job and be resigned to the fact that I’m going to spend the forseeable future sitting on very tiny chairs and eventually needing the help of my five year old charges to hoist my elderly and rather creaky body out of!