The past couple of weeks have seen me working with ITE trainees and Teaching Assistants (TAs). There are interesting parallels with both groups.
One is starting a process that will lead to QTS, under mentor/classteacher supervision, the other is working in a classroom under teacher direction.
One begins to assume responsibility for the whole class, including planning for learning, after a period of induction and preliminary training, the other may have autonomy while working with a group, to address issues arising for learners.
A designated HLTA may assume some time-limited classroom responsibility, if directed by the head.
Both are acting, to some degree, as a teacher, with the classteacher/head taking overall responsibility. It has long been a head’s responsibility to decide who is a right and proper person to be in front of a class.
There is inevitably a responsibility upon the classteacher to quality assure the actions of either the trainee or the TA. In-lesson interaction is a vital ingredient.
In the case of the trainee teacher, I have advised mentors, who, by and large are the classteachers, to become what I have termed “the parrot on the shoulder” approach. This involves making timely decisions that result in a quiet word in the trainee’s ear to take some specific action. In other words, providing appropriate prompts that ensure the growing awareness of the trainee to the complexities of the classroom environment. I remember a conversation with Graham Newell, of Iris Connect, discussing the use of technology. I had envisaged the possibility of the trainee with an earpiece and the mentor with a microphone, really guiding with in-ear advice. A simple word in the ear may be all that is needed!
In the case of TAs, even if they are given responsibility for a group or an individual, these groupings should always operate under the teacher’s guidance. Classroom observations often show that when on task, teachers may rarely interact with the TA group or the TA during the lesson. If this becomes a norm, it can mean that the teacher has less and less contact with specific groups. Oversight and interaction are key, if children are to make the progress desired. Some kind of feedback loop should be integrated into the relationships.
The mentor role is an interesting one, in guiding and training both the ITE trainee and a TA. A second piece of advice that I gave the mentors was the “talk your thinking”, making actions clear, to both the children and the adults, making links overt, to avoid ambiguity. This does require the mentor/classteacher to have a very clear rationale for what they are doing, in order to explain this through the lesson.
The whole could of course be simplified to valuing adult interaction and professional talk within every lesson. By incorporating a trainee or a TA into a classroom, the team ethic needs to be secure, the team leadership and guidance falls to the senior professional, the class teacher, whose role is organiser, guide, mentor and quality assurance. Therefore every teacher is now becoming a manager in some form, responsible for the actions of others.
Having a TA or a trainee does not ensure an easy load, but a well-rehearsed team can work wonders, for everyone concerned.
The key is quality talk...