Teaching assistants are the unsung heroes in a school. They work for pocket money. Seriously, they earn less than a shop assistant in Tesco. Yet, there are individual students in school who would fail if it wasn’t for these people. They commit to more hours than they are paid and take unheard of abuse from students – and some teachers. They are often de-professionalised by other staff and left to feel unworthy.
Teaching assistants follow classes around the school and are experts in those students. They should be the first person that a senior teacher goes and seeks advice from about what to do with a problem class or student.
Teaching assistants have also observed more lessons than any teacher ever will. They will have witnessed what worked and they will have evaluated why lessons went wrong. If you ever need an adult perspective on successful learning and teaching in school, then speak to the teaching assistants.
Teaching assistants are also trained in specialised areas of student support that teachers have never heard about. They may have been trained on the SEND programme, or on early reading techniques, or on how to test for dyslexia or dyspraxia or autism. These people are often experts in the own area of the school. And, they are paid a terrible amount of money.
So, should these teaching assistants move on to be teachers? Some of them should. I have encouraged two different teaching assistants in my time to move onto being a teacher. I then employed them in my faculty, thanks to the support of my head teacher. When they have a degree, when they show more talent in the room than other staff you have observed, then they should be at the front, influencing whole classes of students.
The process of moving from teaching assistant to teacher should be easy. The school should spot the talent that they have and offer them a training position in the school, on a graduate program. They should allow them, if needs be, to work hours in other ways so they can keep their salary whilst they do this. There is not enough talent to turn away people who are already in the school. Headteachers should be investing in the staff that are going to get them results.
If you are a teaching assistant wondering if you should make the move, the answer is: yes. If you believe you could do it better than the people you observe, it is not arrogant to want to do something about this. It is not arrogant to believe you can see how it could be done differently because you likely know more about how a classroom works, so you have seen so much. Make the move, get your degree if needs be, approach your leadership team and garner support. The kids in the school will thank you for it – and so will your bank balance!