Amifa, a Supply Teaching Assistant with Zen Educate, describes how her school role was changed by having children.
About two weeks into my first Teaching Assistant role, my one-to-one student called me “Mum”. I had no time to react because he corrected himself immediately — “I mean, Miss” he said. I was flattered, and quite unsure about whether this was anything to be concerned about, but, mainly, I felt relief. For me, it was a sign of being a step closer to achieving my initial support goal of building a strong relationship with him.
From that position of a safe and trusting relationship, I could encourage him to work through the symptoms of ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder) that made him struggle to complete a task or consider other people in certain situations. “Mum” was evidence that he certainly didn’t hate me, even though I sometimes wondered if he would misunderstand the reasons for my firmness.
It seems fitting to explore the benefits of new parents becoming supply teaching assistants, as well as the similarities between parenthood and teaching. It might seem counterintuitive to work with other people’s children when you are barely used to your own, but the benefits might surprise you. With regards to links, the obvious common denominator between the two roles is a fondness for children; the best teachers are those who love the children and genuinely enjoy being around them. A possibly less obvious link is the benefits of being consistent and firm. These are critically important with children whose behaviour can be very challenging, but benefits pretty much all children.
The timing of my one-to-one student referring to me as “Mum” at that particular time in my life was also a nod to something he was not aware of at the time — I had a baby and a 2-year-old. As we all know, children tend not to see staff as fully rounded human beings, who have parents or children of their own (and why should they!). Unbeknownst to him, I was woken up at least twice between the hours of 1am and 6am by either one or both of my children in the weeks I worked with him. Yet, despite my tiredness, I would join in with his movement break by running around the empty playground, or to strengthen his addition skills, we would throw and catch the super-sized dice while he shouted out the number sentence. Somehow, working with this cheeky, interesting and energetic child gave me energy!
Doing supply work also meant I was able to have proper conversations with other adults, which I hadn’t done enough of during the 2.5 years of being a full-time mum. Injecting myself into supply teaching, after working in the corporate world, had also inspired me; so much had changed since I was in school (hello, mindfulness and books with diverse characters!). According to a Zen survey investigating why people do supply work, 14% of supply teaching assistants choose the role because of their need to have flexibility around childcare. I wonder how many parents — especially those with babies and toddlers — would agree that doing supply work gives them a break from some aspects of being a full-time parent.
During the lockdown, my roles of mum and teaching assistant were truly — and sometimes surreally — merged. I am passionate about education, and it was a complete privilege to have that extended lockdown time to see my now 4-year-old engaged in the learning videos and live sessions recorded/led by his teacher. But sometimes it was a real struggle for a number of reasons, for example:
Now schools are open, even though I miss knowing the day-to-day details of how and what my son is learning, I’m grateful to have the pre-lockdown balance (ok, RELATIVE balance!) back. So if you happened to be placed in my son’s school and he accidentally called you "Mum", I’d give you a knowing wink — just pleased that you helped make sure my son felt safe and secure in his class.
Amifa uses Zen Educate, an online alternative to traditional recruitment agencies to find Teaching Assistant jobs in London. Become a supply TA by signing up to our platform after reading our top tips on building an effective professional profile.