Teaching James a lesson

TEACHING assistants are an invaluable source of support and help in the classroom. But just how tough is it to keep pupils disciplined, so the teacher can get on with teaching? I visited an Ipswich primary school to try my hand at controlling a group of youngsters.

TEACHING assistants are an invaluable source of support and help in the classroom.

But just how tough is it to keep pupils disciplined, so the teacher can get on with teaching? I visited an Ipswich primary school to try my hand at controlling a group of youngsters.

I ADMIT I am not very good with children.

I don't know what to say to them and I am not sure if they like me much.

So as I walked into a mixed class of nine, ten, and 11-year-olds at St Matthew's Primary School in Portman Road, I was a bit nervous.

Yet I needn't have been, because there are techniques and devices you can use to ensure learning remains the top priority in the classroom environment.

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Even a teacher would find controlling a class difficult if it wasn't for the extra support provided by teaching assistants.

St Matthew's deputy head Kelly Tattersall, 28, said: “Teaching assistants are a godsend. There are 29 children in this class, two different languages and several children with special needs. Without teaching assistants we would be really stuck with trying to teach the range of abilities and different types of children you have in a mainstream primary school.”

Mrs Tattersall knows her time is limited and she cannot give as much attention as she would wish to every child. She said: “Teaching assistants provide the pastoral care while I am teaching. They have the time if a child is upset or needs a five minute chat. As teachers we would love to be doing that sort of thing but the current drive to push up standards means we have to get on working with the other 28 children.”

A teacher for the last six years, Mrs Tattersall's experience is an advantage that no training can provide. She commands the class with ease and it is clear from the moment you walk in it is she that is in control.

Mrs Tattersall divided the class into four groups we discussed the arguments to present to the government minister - to be played by Mrs Tattersall wearing glasses - against plans to ban TV and computer games between 5pm and 8pm.

Pointing to a group on a table at the back of the classroom she said: “You will talk to Mr Marston about what you think you might be saying to the government minister when she comes in.”

The youngsters were keen to talk about a letter handed to the group from number ten Downing Street informing the children of plans to make children spend more time with their family.

Polite and friendly they weren't quite as terrifying as I had feared, as I asked them their views.

11-year-old Robin Goodall said: “I don't think it's a very good idea. I play games with my Dad and watch TV with my Mum so we are spending time with each other anyway. I will be complaining to the minister. I need something to play with.”

George Edwards, aged “nine-and-a-half”, seemed to enjoy talking about his opinion. He said: “I am absolutely outraged. It is really wrong. Some people need to do work on their lap-tops and watch the news.”

Yasmine Hurd, aged ten, said: “I am angry about this. I don't have so many toys as I am too old for them. I will have to go to the park.”

The children didn't behave badly, and they were keen to talk about their views on what they clearly saw as an awful policy.

Mrs Tattersall knows her job would be much harder without the two assistants that work closely with her. She said: “It's often helpful to split up the class and that means that with the assistants there is an adult to child ratio of one to ten. Some teaching assistants are out with specific children with specific learning difficulties such as autism.”

Teaching assistants, however, are not fully qualified teachers. Mrs Tattersall said: “They are not supposed to plan lessons. The planning should be done by the teacher. They are not supposed too be left in charge of the whole class.”

As Mrs Tattersall introduced today's topic to the class -connective words- she used role play and pretended to be a government minister, to grab their attention.

She said: “Many of the class take part in drama out of school so I know they will respond to role play. It is one a variety of techniques to avoid boredom. You have to constantly think of different ways of teaching. The role play inspires their emotion and gets them thinking about the topic.”

Throughout the learning experience discipline is crucial.

Mrs Tattersall uses three main techniques to ensure her class does not run riot.

She said: “You use silent control of hand gestures when you do not want to be interrupted. You can use a verbal phrase when you want the children to stop and concentrate and you sometimes have to stop and tell them you have had enough.

“Eye contact is crucial. It is a skill you either have or you haven't, that is partly why teaching is a vocation.”

At St Matthew's the rules of the classroom are clearly defined on the wall.

Mrs Tattersall said: “Rules are crucial to ensuring learning takes place. The children understand the rules, we explain our expectations of them and we are consistent throughout the school.

“We also praise and care for the children so they feel valued and happy. Children want to learn and they know why rules are important.”


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14 different languages are spoken among the 341 children at St Matthew's Primary School.

A mum of two, Nicky Freeman started in September at St Matthew's as a part-time teaching assistant.

She said: “We support the teaching staff. We can work with children individually or take them out in small groups.

“You have to build a relationship with the children but how you talk to them and deal with them depends on what work you are doing that day. Part of the job is to be flexible.”

Mrs Freeman, 43, said: “I like working with children and it is very rewarding. We are more informal with the children than the teacher but I am addressed as Mrs.

“There are a variety of ways to get your message across. They do not need to be frightened of you, no one really uses that approach any more.”

Now in his 6th year at the school, Mr Cox was a corporal in the Royal Air Force before he worked in the classroom.

He said: “I started helping out then I was asked if I would be in class.”

The father-of-two said: “All the time Mrs Tattersall is teaching we look round the class, looking for the child that has gone off track and isn't concentrating. A nod or a whisper is normally enough to get them back and engaged with the lesson.

“Sometimes it can be hard to keep them interested, they may have had a bit of a tiff - they fall in and out of friendships a great deal. Generally they are well behaved but sometimes you have to be quite stern and tell them what they are meant to be doing.”

A series of measures are in place to ensure a youngster behaves - the ultimate result is a letter home to parents telling them about their child's bad behaviour.

Mr Cox said: “Rules are important not just for a stable and consistent childhood but also the sanity of the parents. This is a very rewarding job but it is exhausting. It is the best job I have ever done though.”

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