I have to admit I do quite like the Guardian column: “the secret teacher”. It doesn’t possess the same power to surprise and entertain as The Secret Footballer (another column in the same paper) but that’s probably because I’m a teacher and I know how the world of teaching works. I did however read one article this week on Teaching Assistants and was appalled at this statement: “the majority of the time, TAs add nothing to my lessons.” The author prefaced it with some positive comments but it’s sadly just a rant at an ineffective TA they work with masquerading as journalism.
I’ve worked with some great TAs over the years. Here is how TAs can add value to your MFL lessons, as they have done to mine…
Give them a copy of the scheme of work, textbook, vocabulary and if they have computer access then let them access what you will be covering so they can plan ahead. Every TA that I have done this for has been thankful and more effective as a result. It might be your TA has no language qualifications and hated languages in school. I’ve found that type of TA is great as they can feedback on things that you do that maybe do not help the understanding of some of your less able students. If you can discuss the lesson in advance with them then do it. Some of the TAs I have worked with have even started using apps like Duolingo and Memrise to build their language skills outside of lessons.
If they are attached to an individual then discuss that child with them. Decide how much you want them to pay attention to that child. Decide whether you want them to step back at certain points or stages of a lesson. You might want to let the child struggle a little bit in the practice stage before stepping in. Equally you might want them to be silent in the presentation stage. Shaun Allison writes about an interesting experiment his school are conducting with Teaching Assistants and how they are focusing less on the tricky kids and leaving them to the teacher. It’s something I want to try with my bottom set year 8s.
Encourage their creativity
I had one TA who took aside a small group of kids to teach them how to tell the time in English before we covered it in Spanish. That same TA made paper clocks with movable hands. Another printed off flashcards for her student with a statement. A third one suggested a food-tasting so we did it as the group had been particularly good. They were instrumental in making sure it ran smoothly on the day. They are also great at displays. I’m a man and I’m useless at such things. When you let their creativity run wild you get some fantastic results and great comments from senior staff about your displays. At which point you credit your TA of course…
Build a great working relationship with your TA
TAs normally have a good amount of experience or they are very young and only 2-3 years older than year 11s. The former respond really well to the question “what do you think about…?” The latter respond well to “I would like to do this, shall we give it a go”. Students need to see that you and your TA are like Batman and Robin, Jack Bauer* and Chloe O’Brian, Morecambe and Wise etc. Any hint of that not being the case and students will start playing you against each other. Students need to know that any slight on your TA is a slight on you, and has no place within your classroom walls.
*Please do not model your teaching style on Jack Bauer in terms of approach or working hours.
Give them feedback
Most TAs are observed at some point in the year. For some, they will rarely get any feedback otherwise. Most are conscientious people and want to do their jobs well. Feedback needs to be kind, specific and helpful just as you would do with any student. “I noticed you spending a bit of time with Brendan, which was great. Jenny is also struggling quite a bit so next lesson I would like you to work with her and see if you can build her confidence.”
Let them feedback to you
TAs will notice things that you don’t. Although the kids might believe you to be an omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent teaching machine, you are not. Stop dreaming. Occasionally, your TA will spot bullying, name calling. Merely being sat lower down next to someone they will notice more than you will. Others might spot a student doing something other than the work you wanted from them. I have had one TA criticise me quietly for being too harsh on a student. She was right. It takes a lot to swallow your pride in moments like that. She did it in exactly the right way, and for the right reasons. Both student and teacher were better off for that quiet post-lesson conversation. If it’s appropriate, then create a climate where mutual feedback is professional and constructive, as I found out, everyone wins.
Get some simple CPD from them with one question.
If a TA is attached to a class and has been at the school for a few years this question can tell you where to go for some good observation based CPD: “which teacher would you want your kids to be taught by?” If they say you then demand someone else but be secretly pleased inside. That’s secretly pleased; not openly smug! That person has seen at least 10 different teachers a week, possibly more and those practitioners will change yearly or termly. There’s a reason they picked that one so go and find out what it is!
Every lesson I make a point of saying “thanks for your help Miss”. It’s a small gesture but goes down well. Since we’re approaching that time of year, Christmas cards are also good. If you have one who you work with frequently, then something red or white and in a bottle goes a long way in terms of gesture but may not go a long way that evening!
TAs do a lot of great unseen and under-appreciated work.
Hopefully some see this post.
Share it, if you have a great TA.