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.

A Week in ‘Little School’ by a ‘Big School’ Trainee. Charlotte Broadbent : Maths

The school direct course offers a week in a primary school to better understand the academic and pastoral transition between the ‘big year 6’ students suddenly becoming the ‘little year 7s’. It is a good opportunity to observe the level of work that the students can complete and what they have learnt in depth. My placement was during the remembrance celebrations for the anniversary of WW1.

As soon as I entered my primary school, I was shocked by how small and intimate it was. Compared to a high school housing several subjects in different buildings my primary school has one classroom for each year with a shared area between two years. Being a secondary trainee, I’m used to having a bell ring at the end of every hour; however in a primary school, the timetable was hard to keep up with. There was no hustle and bustle to get to another class, and each subject seemed to merge into the next. The whole class worked together constantly, and if there was any fall outs (especially between the girls) it affected the whole group – there was no downtime.

Whilst on my placement, I got to work with a few focus groups. Since I am a maths specialist I worked with a group of students who needed a confidence boost in their mathematic ability. Working with this little group of students allowed me to practice new teaching methods on the topic; trying out more visual methods and altering my explanations for them. I also had a focus group for reading, which pushed me out of my comfort zone and highlighted how the primary school teacher has to be skilled in many subjects.

Observing the classroom teacher, I got a glimpse into how much work a primary school teacher has to do. Whilst they only have 30 children to teach, they need to be highly organised to ensure the learning of a mixture of cross-curricular subjects whilst maintaining a high level of pastoral care for every member of their class. You can clearly see the relationships that are formed between the classroom teacher and the pupil.

I loved the whole-school assembly at the end of the week, where members of each class displayed the pieces of work they had worked hard on during the week. There was a ‘theme’ to the week (which was WW1 at the time of my placement) so there was a variety of work to celebrate the anniversary of the war. There were pieces of poetry (from the lovely year 6s I was working with), paintings and even poppy wreaths! I felt a great sense of pride from each person in the school and it was lovely to be a part of it. The older pupils in the school even got the opportunity to take a trip to the cenotaph at Royton Park just before the 11 o’clock silence.

Over the week, I realised that the level of work that the year 6s are completing is of high challenge. I was working with quite a creative bunch of students and was really impressed by their creative writing ability in particular. This was highlighted in the war poetry pieces they were writing (some were quite emotional!). The week in the primary school has left me motivated to implement a more creative outlook to my lessons to ensure that my current (and future!) year 7s creativeness is not lost due to the amount they have to juggle after the transition to secondary. I also learnt that I’d underestimated the academic challenge at primary. This was invaluable experience to inform my secondary planning of year 7 lessons.

Why Teaching was for Me. Michael Ashworth

Teaching never entered my mind whilst at university studying for a sport science degree until I experienced coaching young children first hand at the local athletics club. I thought this is something I could do for a career. Funnily enough both my mother and sister are teachers so this could have also had an impact on my decision after listening for years about the love of the profession that they have. This probably has rubbed off onto me.

Once I had decided upon wanting to be a teacher I then had to decide which subject? Science or PE? PE was my obvious choice due to a variety of sports I played and the close link between sport science and the required PE curriculum knowledge.

I applied for and interviewed for 2 PE PGCE courses but neither of them appealed to me. I had school experience through 2 and a half years at North Chadderton School as a TA and I wanted to get into a school teaching as soon as possible. The Northern Alliance was my answer. A professional and thorough interview process….. The next day an answer of “You have gained a place” was the result I wanted.

My two favourite moments of my teaching life so far are realising that a single blow on your whistle can mean a multitude of different things! I had some students getting up and running and jumping to sitting in silence. This experience has shown me the power of developing a good “teacher voice” to get my instructions understood as a whistle can be confusing at times. After numerous sore throats and loss of voice completely I feel I’m getting the hang of it.

My second favourite moment was during my away placement. I was asked to have a review observation first lesson back after the winter half term. Lesson topic rounders, never taught rounders before = panic! However I planned the lesson well with all the help from my subject mentor the lesson went fantastically well. I was graded outstanding for the first time!

The advantage of the Northern Alliance route of teacher training I find most advantageous is the fact that you get a bespoke mix of teaching experiences in differing school settings, training days held by other alliance schools and university study days. All in all I feel that the Northern Alliance (School Direct) is that it has given me a firm foundation and the support to enable me to develop as an outstanding practitioner.


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