From TA to Trainee Teacher – A New Perspective by Adrian Vandeburg

Having worked for two years as a teaching assistant in a Secondary school before beginning my schools direct training I felt I had a reasonable grasp of what being a teacher would be like. Although in many ways working as a TA has been a great preparation for training as a teacher, I quickly realised there are many more differences between the roles than I had realised.

One of the main challenges I encountered as a teaching assistant was commanding the respect of pupils who were very aware that, as a T.A., I didn’t have the authority or power of a teacher. A particular highlight was a year 10 student telling me he didn’t have to listen to me because I “earned less than a bin man.” Even as a trainee teacher, the students seem to generally have a greater respect than I experienced as a TA. The fact that I have very much felt integrated into the department, and am treated as a full member of staff by my colleagues, has helped enormously with this.  Although it is obviously a benefit to command more respect, I also have felt like the dynamics of the relationships I build with students has changed. As a teaching assistant the students saw me as someone they could approach and confide in more easily than a subject teacher. Often I would spend a lot more time with students than a subject teacher ever could, and the very fact that I had less ‘authority’ than a teacher meant they felt more comfortable telling me if they were struggling then they may a teacher.

Another major difference I have found is the level of organisation and time management skills required to be a teacher compared to a TA. As a TA how I spent my time was completely dictated to me by my line manager, leaving me with busy days but little organisation to do. However, as a trainee teacher (I obviously have timetabled lessons and mentor sessions) how I organise my time is up to me.

That in itself has personally been a challenge. There is an almost infinite amount of work I could be doing at any one point; planning lessons and activities, researching teaching techniques, organising and compiling my various evidence folders, expanding my subject knowledge, creating seating plans and resources, researching any SEN issues I may face in my classes, examining subject specifications … there is never nothing to do. However, now how and when I do all this is my own choice. Prioritising and managing this workload has been a culture shock after being used to having my whole day organised for me as a TA.

One more difference I have noticed between being a TA and a teacher has been the way you view a class in each role. As a T.A I was mostly concerned with ensuring the students I had been specifically assigned to support in the class were able to access the lesson; had differentiated work, were behaving appropriately etc. I was almost entirely focused on helping those students who had additional needs, however with my teacher hat on I view the class as a whole, the focus being that every pupil is making progress. That is not to say I ignored the pupils without SEN as a TA, however I felt I had had a successful lesson if the few pupils I was supporting had a good lesson, as a teacher you need all the students to both be challenged and make progress not just a select few.

Working as a teaching assistant has certainly been a good foundation for a career as a teacher and I am confident the experience I gained will make me a better teacher in the long run. That said the roles are very different and I am excited to expand my skills over the next year to become a hopefully successful practitioner.

Adrian Vandeburg, Manchester Nexus English Trainee Teacher

Reflecting On My Initial Teacher Training So Far – Suzanne Crump

I was always adamant that I would not follow the path of many of my contemporaries and go in to teaching.  It had never appealed and I (wrongly) dismissed children as rude, boring germ-carriers.  How wrong could I be?!

Optimistically, I entered the workforce upon graduating in 2009 at the height of the recession; working as a dog groomer, luxury brand sales assistant, charity shop manager, book seller, to name a few of the jobs that I tried and found to be crushingly dissatisfying.  In my mid-twenties I began working with young people in a career guidance capacity.  Finally, the penny dropped.  Children are brilliant and it feels GOOD to help them!

Fast-forward a couple of years, a lot of tears shed over the numeracy skills test (seriously, get it over and done with as soon as you can) and I find myself as a trainee teacher of Religious Studies at The Blue Coat school in Oldham.  I really wish I had done this sooner.

I am only 10 weeks in to my teaching practice and I am surprised by how much I have progressed already.  My timetable gradually increased so that now I am teaching 9 lessons per week.  My mentor and departmental teachers have been crucial in building up my confidence and teaching skills.  They embraced me as a member of staff from day one and include me in all of their meetings, planning and brainstorming.

When we are not getting side-tracked by Donald Trump, killer clowns, Harambe or dabbing I have some of my most meaningful and mature conversations with the students.  Their insight, optimism and outlook on life is what gets me up in the morning.  I feel proud knowing that the knowledge and analytical skills that we teach in RS will prepare them for living in modern Britain.

For anyone who is thinking ‘can I actually teach?’, my advice would be to attend as many teaching Open Days as possible.  I went to a few and knew that the Manchester Nexus was the right choice for me: supportive staff, a clear structure and good employment prospects.  Most Open Days involve observing different classes, and if they don’t, ask!

My evenings have gone from Netflix marathons to planning, marking, eating ice cream for energy and being in bed by 9:30PM but I wouldn’t change it for the world.  Teaching is demanding, don’t get me wrong, but knowing that you have stretched and challenged young minds makes it all worthwhile.

Suzanne Crump, Manchester Nexus Religious Studies Trainee

Reflections on my first term: Sophie Howarth: English

sophie-howarthI can’t quite believe that my first term- and with that my first placement- as a School Direct trainee is over. It has flown, yet at the same time it feels as though I’ve been doing this all my life. From walking up the drive, suffering from first day nerves on the 1st September, to driving through the gates on the 18th December with the last day blues, so much has happened. I have learnt so much, (hopefully) taught so much and I feel I’ve changed so much, in terms of practice, confidence and creativity.

I knew I wanted to teach after having tried my hand at a few work experience placements within the media industry, but found them to be, for me, lacking in something. I secured a job as a Teaching Assistant, and from then on I was convinced of my desire to teach. The reactive nature of the job, the buzz of a lively classroom and the relationships that can be formed with some amazing young people had me hooked. To begin with I was excited, but I was more nervous than I’d anticipated myself to be, having previously come from a school environment. My first time in front of a class wasn’t exactly a roaring success, but this is the good thing about School Direct. I feel that the absolute dread of ‘A Bad Lesson’ is actually far worse in theory than it is in practice. Ultimately, a lesson that falls a bit short can be one of the best things for your training, as the amount of feedback and support that is then offered by mentors and teachers is both immeasurable and invaluable. After taking all of the advice on board, I was excited to implement new strategies, resources and ideas, and it is this, I feel, that has been instrumental in me seeing a real change in myself.

One of the reasons I am so glad to have chosen School Direct with the Northern Alliance is having the freedom to try new things- your classes really feel like your own-, but also knowing that there is an absolute wealth of support available if it is needed; be this from a professional mentor, subject mentor, the department or of course my fabulous fellow trainees, who have played a big part in making the first term so enjoyable.

Once I had my behaviour management and classroom presence in order, the next challenge was to begin experimenting with different teaching methods. Highlights of the past term have included sitting in a Hillary Devey mask, next to one of my pupils as Duncan Bannatyne, whilst the rest of the class took it in turns to pitch their own unique holiday destinations to me, watching my Year 8s engage in a passionate and informed debate about youth justice, after having used the novel ‘Holes’ as a stimulus, and a hug from a Year 9 student after having been away at university for a week.

I am now a week into my second placement and am already enjoying my new school, bolstered by a confidence I didn’t necessarily have when I started in September, but which I can attribute to my experiences since then. The new start has snapped me out of my festive food coma, and I am quickly learning the different approaches and standards of my new placement.  More importantly, I am eager to get to know my new classes so that I can start teaching them, and in return, they me.

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