Working in Schools

Name: Claire

Job Title: Teaching Assistant

What exactly is that?

I work in an Infant School with ages 5-7. I support the teachers and pupils and have many different duties day to day.

How did you get there?

I spent my teenage years volunteering in a theatre. From here I got my first professional job as a Stage Manager aged 16. Then I went on to work in different theatres in London, Leeds and a brief stint in New York and Madrid!

I started out as a Stage Manager and decided to change my career direction slightly in my 20’s. I went to University and got a degree in Arts Education and an MA in Performance Studies, to support and inform my work in theatre education. During my degrees I got married and had a baby and after my maternity leave I worked in schools, colleges and universities as well as theatres as a freelance theatre education practitioner. This means I used drama as a tool to engage people in education as well as directing and writing for the stage.

After I became a single parent, I then wanted a more regular job pattern and looked at schools. I have been a TA for a few months now and find that everything I have done in my previous roles has benefited the way I approach working with children. Every job I have had has been worth it, and I have a wealth of experience to draw from every day.

Describe a typical day for you

My alarm goes off at 6.50am. This means I can lay in bed for 10 mins after pressing snooze. Then I get up at 7am and immediately make a coffee and feed the cat. Then I make lunches for myself and my 8 year old daughter. At 7.30 I wake her up and she gets dressed whilst I get myself ready. I leave the house at 8am and drop my daughter at breakfast club. I then drive slightly further along the road to the school where I work and park up. There’s never any spaces so I have to factor that in for my timings. I arrive at work, greeting lots of teachers and other staff along the way who are usually in much earlier than my 8.20am. I drop my things off and then go to the front door to walk to the bus stop to collect the children who arrive by bus.

They are usually very sluggish in the morning and it takes a lot to get them up the hill to school and into their classes. My first lesson is Year 1 numeracy, or maths. I work with a group who have English as a second language (EAL) or mild/moderate learning issues. I help them understand what the teacher is asking of them and help them to recognise numbers. After this is assembly, I sit and watch the children to make sure the are behaving. Then it’s break time. We are encouraged to eat fruit and talk to the children as well as join in the games to model good behaviour.

Sometimes it’s freezing or raining and sometimes I have to deal with scraped knees or friends falling out with each other. After break it is reading and literacy groups. I have a special group that I take out of the class and work with to learn phonics. I have been working with them for months and have developed a good relationship with them. At 11.15am I take a group of 9 children to work on their writing skills. I help them sound out words, to develop their vocabulary and work out what they need to do to hit their targets.

Sometimes we act out stories or look at characters to help them to do this. In my lunch break I go to the staff room and chat with people. It’s a very friendly school and everyone gets on. I am about to start assisting the choir in my lunch breaks. After lunch I work with Year 2’s. I am also doing phonics with this group, as they have a repeat of their phonics test already taken in Year 1. I have to go over sounds and letters and check that they know what it should be. We make word lists and sentences as well as actions and impressions to help them to remember.

At the end of the school day I go round to all the classrooms and collect the bus children again to get them safely to the bus.

I finish work at 3.30pm and my daughter has been walked up from her school to meet me. We often go shopping or to the park straight from school, but I’m always home by about 5pm so I can cook tea for the pair of us. Sometimes it’ll be bath night, sometimes, homework night, but we always watch The Simpsons at 6pm together. It’s bedtime for the 8 year old at 7.30pm and I always read to her before she sleeps. I will then go and watch some TV/go on the internet/read before I go to bed at about 10.30pm.

What’s the best thing about what you do?

I love working with children. All ages, but especially the 5-7’s because they have lots of enthusiasm for their work and have a wonder about everything. They still believe in magic and some of them come from very disadvantaged backgrounds. Part of what I love is that school might be a safe haven for them and I am making a difference in their lives. Education opens many doors, but you need self esteem and confidence to be able to unlock them as well. I want them to love learning and to feel as if they are listened to. The world can be a dark place but these kids still laugh their heads off if you pull a funny face at them. I laugh a lot in my job.

What’s the one thing you would change if you could?

I wish that there weren’t so many children who came from bad backgrounds. For their sake I wish all children had love, self worth and a level of expectation about their own lives. It’s heartbreaking to hear that some of the children have such bad home lives and yet are still expected to come into school every day and learn. The pressure put on classroom teachers from all sides, but especially the government means that I am not prepared to train as one just yet. Which is a shame because I think I’d be really good.

What did you want to do for a living when you were at school?

I think I wanted to be a teacher, then a writer, then I discovered the arts as a teenager and felt like someone finally understood me! I was lucky that I knew from about 15 that I wanted a career in the arts, but sustaining that throughout my adulthood has been more difficult.

Tell us about one thing you were insecure about when you were at school

I was insecure about everything! the way I looked, the way I spoke, the way I acted, the way I ate, the clothes I wore, the friends I had…. the list was endless. I felt a desperate need to leave school and that environment behind, so I went to college to do my A-Levels instead of 6th Form, where everyone else went. It was there I started to reinvent myself and started to build my confidence.

What advice would you have given yourself at 18 if you could?

Slow down! There is plenty of time to get things done and stop trying to act 25 when you’re still so young. We all make mistakes so stop being so hard on yourself. People like you, for you.

What’s your favourite thing to do in your spare time?

I love eating and travelling. So an ideal thing for me is to go away to a foreign city and eat local food! Unfortunately there’s not too much time for that so I make the most of it when I can.

What’s the title of the last book you read?

The Girl on the Train‘.

Please share with us one beauty tip you have learned

Lips OR eyes. Less is more.

Please share with us one money tip you have learned

With a fluctuating income, you can learn to live on very little. But once you get used to living on a lot, that’s harder to deal with if you lose it. Don’t get into debt. Don’t get any store cards!

Please share on life lesson you have learned

Be nice to people on the way up, because you might meet them again on your way down. Actually, just be nice. It benefits everyone.

Tell us about your favourite recent purchase of £25 or under

I have a tiny apple charm made of bone or ivory that I wear on a chain around my neck. I bought it in The Netherlands and it was in a market at the bottom of a box. I found it and just knew that I needed it. I only had 4 Euros left and it was 5. I begged the stallholder and she let me have it. I wear it everyday and it’s completely unique.

How can people find you for more information?

Twitter @ClairP1980



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