In our regular series, Londoners speak freely and honestly about their occupations, under the cloak of anonymity
I'm a 31-year-old teaching assistant. I got the position through working in schools in various capacities. I was sent to a school to work 1-1 with a child with special education needs; I enjoyed it, the child liked me, so they kept me on. I work at a mainstream school, with a special education unit.
A lot of my work is based around the autism spectrum, and where the children are placed on it. You work with children that can function in class during the whole school day, you have some that only go into certain lessons, and some that cannot cope with the mainstream curriculum. With a lot of the children, it's more about managing behaviour. A former child I worked with had no language when I started with him, he only made sounds. Helping that child to communicate and getting rid of aggressive behaviour, like biting and hitting, is my proudest achievement – now, four years later, he's a completely different child. You could go and observe him in his classroom and he would seem like a mainstream kid.
I have no formal training, I pretty much learnt on the job. Some of my colleagues have a lot of training – in my eyes, some have too much. You get those who think they know it all, and you get those who will openly say that under no circumstances will they work with a child with educational needs. When you're in a school, I think you should work with everybody, no matter who they place you with. If you don't feel comfortable, you need to get comfortable. At the end of the day, the children are the most important.
There are some things I didn't expect to do when I started out in this role. You need to change kids' nappies and pants, you need to do a lot of singing. You need to learn makaton signing – just the basics, but it's important to know. Most of my friends don't even know I can do that. My least favourite part of my job is the daily violence you have to deal with. I've been threatened with scissors; I only got out of that one by speaking to the child.
I've had to deal with lots of very violent episodes. Chairs have been thrown right past my face, I've been head-butted, I've been kicked, bitten, threatened with scissors. One time I was talking to a child, he was smiling, and next thing I know, there was a backhand across the side of my face. But what can you do? You need to be very calm; I just said: "That wasn't very nice, was it?". You need to repress a lot of regular instincts. But after a while, in that environment, those reactions automatically switch off.
Naturally as with any place, if you're in with the office staff or the Heads, you’ll get more leeway: more equipment, more trips for the kids. They even fight about display space in the hallways! At times, the behaviour of the adults is worse than the kids’. I’ve seen teachers have full-blown arguments in the playground in front of the children, swearing at each other. I’ve had to move the kids out of the way and separate the teachers.
Primary schools are notoriously female-heavy; being a man in that setting can be tricky. It's always been ok for me, other than getting hit on quite a bit. But some people don't like the imbalance, and the arguments. I don't feel there's any need to get into confrontations with anybody. Schools generally have cliques, and sometimes you can work with people who don't like to see you doing well – the teacher likes you, the children like you, the parents like you, so they'll try to make your life difficult. There are only three male teachers in my school, for example. And to be honest, there’s a lot of back-biting; for example, many teacher’s assistants have been there for ages, often between 15 and 25 years, and when they get a new class teacher, if the teacher doesn't stamp their authority straight away, that TA just pulls rank and does whatever they want. If you don't have a TA that’s helping you it can be a nightmare for the teacher.
Kids nowadays are a lot older than when I was a child. A 10-year-old now, they act like a 15-16 year old. They'll know lyrics to songs you really wouldn't expect. I might be whistling Juicy, by Biggie, and they'll just start rapping all the words to it. And they don't know what they're saying. We'll be in the ICT suite, and they'll be typing away, singing "My milkshake brings all the boys to the yard".
Teachers are definitely underrated – they have a massive effect on a child's life. Especially if you're working in a deprived borough of London as a man; you're a positive role model for these children, many of whom don't know their fathers, and that can be an amazing thing.
Across the board, the thing most kids say to me is "Are you my dad?" It's equally funny and sad. If you're a man and you're working in mainstream, you'll always get this. It's a genuine question on their part. And sometimes they'll end up just calling you "dad", or "uncle". Really often, kids will tell me what mum did to dad, or daddy did to mummy. "Daddy was upset with mummy, so he kicked her." You have to follow up on those ones. There's loads of that.
At every school I've worked at, kids have tried to escape. You find yourself running down a high street full pelt, because the kids have escaped from the playground. Also, every school I’ve worked in, all test papers, (unless you have independent invigilators come in), anything in-house is doctored. If that’s happened in all the schools I’ve been in, I’m sure it’s happening nationwide. I’ve seen deputy heads have certain children retake the tests privately in the library if they didn't like the results, with ‘assistance’.
There's nothing like working in a school when Ofsted is about to come, the governing body for schools. When they come, everyone is on their best behaviour – let's help the kids cross the road, let's wear our fluorescent vests, everything completely changes. And I think that's horrible, especially when the kids are being treated differently. The build-up is pretty ridiculous: everyone’s dressed differently, a lot smarter, hair done, the class room is tidy, everything is in order. The best thing about it is the kids know as well. Working with autistic kids, they're not good with hints and hiding stuff. I remember one time we had an Ofsted inspector in, and the boy I work with said, in front of the inspector, “Why are we doing this Mr ****? This isn't what class is normally like.”
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