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