Tips for a New Teaching Assistant

(11 Posts)
carolineinthegarden Fri 16-Sep-16 19:04:45

Hello all,

I'm looking for some advice on behalf of my 22-year-old daughter. She's just (two weeks ago) started a job at a local primary school and is struggling to settle in.

She is a 'floating' TA, meaning she will work in each of the seven classes whenever she is needed. Although this is obviously a great way to gain experience, it means there are seven times the number of classrooms to find her way around, seven times the amount of names to learn, seven times the number of teachers to work with etc. She hasn't been in the same place for more than one day yet, so every day feels like a first day. She has come home crying a few times saying that she feels incompetent because she has to keep asking where things are, what to do, which pupils to work with, how to use the photocopier and so on. Although the staff are generally friendly and helpful, she is convinced everyone thinks she is useless for not knowing these things instinctively (or at least remembering once she's been told a couple of times).

She did volunteer in the school last year and seemed to do okay, and she's generally quite bright - she's got a first class degree in English - but she hasn't got any real experience of working with children. No one seems to have taken this into account as she hasn't been given any training. She's thinking about self-funding a TA course so she can 'catch up' a bit, but she doesn't know who ask for advice on this as she isn't linked to a specific class teacher or mentor. Communication in general seems to be quite bad as no one told her things like the door code or the time and date of last week's TA meeting.

Even worse is the dreaded staff room. Apparently the rest of the TAs tend to talk about their children and largely ignore her. She tried eating lunch in a classroom with a new teacher, which was fine until someone announced in a meeting that she needed to go to the staff room more. For the last few days she has been sitting in near-silence feeling unable to contribute. She's not the most confident person at the best of times, so she is finding the situation very uncomfortable. She desperately wants to fit in and be accepted but she doesn't know how.

She says today was the worst yet and seems a bit traumatised. She doesn't think she can carry on like this for much longer, so if anyone has any advice/words of wisdom/reassurance, I know she would really appreciate it.

Thank you xx

nilbyname Fri 16-Sep-16 19:15:50

Well it sounds like the school are massively taking the piss!!!

Has she asked the head to appoint her a mentor? She should do this.

Tell her to keep a small note book on her at all times. Note down photocopy passwords, teachers names/classes on there. Times and places she needs to be. I used to write everything down!

Ask for trainings! Ask if there's a TA induction one?

Staff room-
Watch something popular on tv and talk about it- the bake off, cold feet and so on?
Ask people what they are reading, ask for a recommendation? Talk about the weather.

frozenpink Fri 16-Sep-16 23:24:34

Sounds really hard, but not unusual I'm afraid. Often there is no training or mentoring at all - you are expected to turn up and do the job and that's pretty much it - no one tells you how to do it. The staff room can be a bit tricky - could she go out for a quick stroll at lunchtime? Or take a magazine to read? Keeping a notebook is a good idea.
I don't suppose for one moment staff think that she is useless. We have supply/new people in all the time and most folk are always happy to help. If she could summon up the courage to ask one of the friendlier tas for some hints and tips that might help.
Is this job just a stop gap? Or something she wants to do for a while?

carolineinthegarden Sat 17-Sep-16 21:03:42

Thank you both for your advice smile

nilbyname - DD read your message and said it was very useful. She started making lists of children's names, photocopier codes etc. in a notebook last night. She doesn't know who to ask about training/mentoring, but she's going to try and pluck up the courage to talk to a senior member of staff if things don't improve within a couple of weeks.

frozenpink - I thought people might say that. I was a TA a long time ago and that school was much the same with no/little training, but at least I had a routine and a 'home' classroom to base myself in. Ideally she'd like to come home at lunch to walk the dog, but she's reluctant to do this as she already feels like she's 'in trouble' for not going in the staff room enough. She was actually considering teaching as a career so this was supposed to be a trial, but the social aspect seems to have put her off already. She really appreciated your kind words about new people not being useless, thank you flowers

panad317 Sat 17-Sep-16 21:14:22

It's only been two weeks, the teachers will soon have proper 'jobs' for her to do when they get to know the children better.
Did she know she was going to be a floater when she applied for the job? Is it with children with ALN? If so, she will probably have one child or a group of children in each class that she'll be working with at the same times each day so will know their names soon enough.
I think the school was wrong to employ someone without a qualification or experience with working with children though!

PrincessHairyMclary Sat 17-Sep-16 21:24:36

Work at a Secondary so float between teachers/classrooms all the time I'm largely based in one curriculum area but it's not unusual to find myself in a completely different lesson.

Can she spend 10mins getting to know each classroom at the beginning if the day, if it's something a child can get ask them to, encouraging independent learning and all that.

Staff room chat is tough my fellow TAs are much older with grown up child whilst mine is still small. We have little in common and chat about tv or on our phones. I'm trying to sit with a slightly younger crowd this year.

Learning childrens names are tough I work with about 400 children plus a week I get to know a few well but generally rely on flipping to see the front of their book.

The teachers should be giving her an overview of the lesson/morning plans and directions on what they want her to do. She is a resource to be used effectively.

She could talk to the SENCO and find out if any students have SEN most common is generally Dyslexia and Autism, there are some great free Courses on the OU website on Being A TA, Dyslexia and Autism that might be helpful.

There are lots of books on amazon re being a TA, some are text books to match the courses so I would perhaps read these first, settle in until Christmas then decide wether she wants to do a course. She should be able to get this funded as part of her CPD again talk to the SENCO.

Good luck to your Daughter, it always takes at least 6 weeks to get settled and really due to the cycle of the school it takes a full year to know what you are doing and what is expected of you.

FathomsDeep Sat 17-Sep-16 21:32:22

panad317 there is no statutory requirements to any qualifications at all to be employed as an entry level TA. The OPs DD is a graduate which means she's literate and numerate, plus she does have experience volunteering in a school so she's more than qualified for the job.

OP, I'm a TA. Her school doesn't sound like the easiest of environments but I would suggest a few things. First, I would make a point of having a good look round the stationary cupboards so she knows where everything is and can lay her hands quickly on the dry wipe markers for example if she is asked to go and get some. I would also suggest really trying to get to grips with the photocopier. The office staff may be able to help here. If not, make a note of the make and model if necessary and look it up at on the Internet at home. The same goes for the laminator and the various printers. If you know their quirks, things are much easier to navigate!

Making notes of kids names is a good idea. I would also urge her to ask again if she doesn't know something. She says everyone is generally friendly and helpful so it sounds like it's her own self confidence that is holding her back there instead of a hostile work environment? If she is unsure of something, she really does need to ask again. I asked loads of questions in my first few weeks in the job and nobody minded. Teachers would rather be asked twice than have something done that is not how they wanted it.

She really should be told things like the door code though. Again, I would suggest getting the admin staff on side if she can. They generally know what is going on and can let her know any information that might have missed getting passed on.

FathomsDeep Sat 17-Sep-16 21:35:54

* Oops, mixed up stationary with stationery there blush

I would also say that in our staff room, everyone is mostly eating and/or on their phones. There's not much chat as we are just all taking a breather, really! Could it be that your DD is interpreting this as ignoring her when in reality they're just having a bit of a break and catching up with the other staff they're friendly with.

panad317 Sat 17-Sep-16 21:39:53

FathomsDeep the OP said her DD "hasn't got any real experience of working with children" this is why I think it's wrong of the school, and a degree in English is very good but not relevant for her role, especially if working with children with ALN.

carolineinthegarden Sun 18-Sep-16 08:44:27

Wow, thanks everyone!

panad317 - she found out it was a 'floating' job during the interview. It seems that she'll have to do a bit of everything: working in the classroom, taking groups out and some one-to-one with SEN/ALN pupils. I agree that she would ideally have had training first, especially for the SEN stuff, which she has no experience of. She's definitely been thrown in at the deep end.

PrincessHairyMclary - how do you find it floating between classrooms? Did it make settling in tough? How much do you rely on the teacher to tell you what to do, and how much is your own initiative? Presumably it's harder to take the initiative when you're with unfamiliar classes/teachers all the time. Your advice is very useful. She has ordered a book from Amazon which she hopes will help her with the basics.

FathomsDeep - thanks for the encouragement. Good idea about Googling the photocopier etc. It's definitely her confidence holding her back as she's worried she will be seen as 'useless' for not knowing/remembering everything. I don't think anyone is deliberately ignoring her, just talking to each other rather than to her. She was told something along the lines of "spending time in the staff room is how you become part of the team" so seems to think she is letting everybody down by not fitting in there immediately. Again, I suspect this is more to do with her self-confidence than anything else, but it's still horrible to see her so upset.

MsHybridFanGirl Thu 29-Sep-16 20:59:17

OP - how is your daughter getting along now?
I'm a new TA and finding it very hard myself - I'm also a one to one to an autistic boy and have no training whatsoever which is tough

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