Teaching assistant Jacqui shares her highs and lows

Jacqui had a long career in hotel management. After having a family she decided she wanted a change and began working as a teaching assistant in a London primary school. Here she talks about the highs and lows of the job:

My role

Basically I’m a TA who does interventions. I do 1:1 interventions and group work all day, every day. I’ve been working in a primary school in North London supporting children from years 2-6 in English and Maths. I also do some mentoring and play therapy. The play therapy is connected not with my day to day role but with my working towards being a children’s counsellor for Place2Be. I’ve done that with permission from my line manager. 

I’ve been at the same primary school for five years. I was taken on at first to do playground supervision and 1:1 reading. I was then brought along to support different SEN groups. I was a constant for the children.

The joys of being a TA

My background and qualifications were in hotel management. I used to work 70 hours a week which just wasn’t practical with a family. I would go into my daughter’s school and help out. I would read with them, do baking and go on school trips. I loved it.

When my husband was very ill a few years ago I remember sitting in a hospital room and just thinking “my god, nobody knows what’s around the corner and I really need to be doing something that I enjoy and makes a difference.” 

I thought there are two things that I’m really passionate about. One of them was counselling and the other was education. I realised it would take a long time to get into counselling but thought if I could get into a primary school I could see. I might hate it but I might love it.

What I love is the rawness of working with the kids and the sense of satisfaction. The input you have with these children really makes a difference in their lives. A lot of them haven’t got that support at home therefore whatever you can put into them, when you can see a spark of something in them, that’s amazing. I mean it’s almost like the effect you get when it’s your own children. To see that spark and to see them come alive, it’s amazing.

The lows

What do I find frustrating? Well, the pay for a start. It’s disgusting. My colleagues and I used to talk about it. We are educating the next generation. This is the thanks we get. Being a TA I’ve been in a very subservient role so to speak. That’s been very hard for me after previously doing a management role. You just have to get on with it and make the best of it.

I feel a bit jaded now to be honest. Admittedly I went in not really knowing what the role was and it became bigger as I was taken on to do more which was great but then it went beyond that. I was being paid the same when I was doing interventions, planning and preparing resources as when I first went in as a playground supervisor and doing 1:1 reading. Of course no one goes into it for the money. You are going into it because you really believe that what you’re doing is worthwhile and making a difference.

I’ve had some training but it depended on who my line manager and the SENCO was at the time. The training I went on was all really good but, I’ve got a background in training and for any training to be effective you need to share it, to feed back. Instead it often felt like ticking a box for OFSTED. Some of my colleagues would comment on how much training I’d done and they had barely been on anything but that’s because I pushed myself forward and researched it myself. Unfortunately when you don’t ask, you don’t get anything.

The future

From September I am staying in education but will be working one day a week for Place2Be as a volunteer counsellor whilst I work towards a 2-year counselling diploma and as an SEN tutor three days a week for a company working with SEN schools in NW London. They will pop me in wherever they think I’m needed, with children who have perhaps been excluded, as a tutor but because of my background in counselling and the way I work with children, working holistically and looking at them as a whole. It’s time for me to do something for myself now and it’s exciting.

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