All staff members that work at a school have roles & responsibilities they require to follow for the school to function correctly. Teacher assistants (TA) do at times get asked to conduct duties that are outside of daily school roles they normally do to cover short term absence or in emergency.
School TAs are employed to fulfil certain duties according to their qualifications, skills, abilities, legal obligations, and school requirements. A lot of TAs take a job at a school to make a difference doing they’re best or complete other work outside of the job description or what’s allowed not intentionally trying to overstep the limited authority TAs have.
Balancing act between a teacher assistant doing the job appropriately and not undermining teachers can be averted by communication and clearly defined roles working together.
What is overstepping?
Teaching assistant overstepping scenario
Sally teaches English at a large UK secondary school where she has a number of different groups of various ages and academic ability. She’s an experienced qualified teacher and has worked at the school for 6 years. Twice a week a level 3 teaching assistant helps in the English department providing 1:1 and booster/intervention lessons to small groups of pupils.
The school recently employed a new TA to cover English & mathematics additional help replacing someone who had left the role. Sally taught 4 lessons on a subject and wanted the teacher assistant to reinforce reading & spelling to a small group of students.
She gave set work, including work sheets and basic instructions, and after 2 booster lessons the teaching assistant:
- Told the school pupils that since you now get a lot of these questions right we will go onto another topic next lesson.
- Found that the TA had marked pupil’s exercise books and home work with comments.
Sally was not amused as the teacher assistant has overstepped her authority writing comments in student’s exercise books, and incorrectly informing them of another English topic next lesson.
Speak to the teaching assistant about sticking to instructions
Sally spoke to the school TA that covered her English booster lessons saying that she didn’t want the exercise books marked at this time, and only wanted the TA to do what Sally instructed.
What transpires is the TA is a level 3 teaching assistant with a qualification at level 3, although new to the role. The TA didn’t realise she wasn’t to mark pupils exercise books, or indeed wasn’t allowed, as it’s the class teachers role.
The teacher assistant said she was keen to do extra tasks if needed and just wanted to help. Sally explained that each booster lesson that pupils receive & work they complete is all part of wider learning in English topics and subject. Also, sally explained to the teacher assistant that the class teacher checks & marks pupils exercise books to add appropriate comments, check understanding and see any issues the pupils has with learning.
Sally passed onto the English head of department (HOD) that the teacher assistant taking booster group lessons overstepped her role in marking books and giving incorrect information to pupils about the next topic. The HOD said he’ll speak to the TA department head about it.
Clear communication of TA role & expectations
The teacher assistant hasn’t received much training & instruction from the TA department as yet being a new employee at the school. The English department head spoke to the TA department and they said they’ll make clear the role & expectations of TAs assisting teachers with pupils learning in class, 1:1 and booster lessons.
Sally subsequently has a friendly chat with the new TA making time during lunch break about some of the boundaries of a teacher & teaching assistant. She explained both the teacher & TA have they’re respective roles in teaching & learning at the school, and working practices to follow, and it’s a collaborative effort & arrangement between TA and sally the teacher.
Expectations of TAs assigned a small group of a teacher’s class to provide additional learning were mentioned, empathising that the TA requires following instructions, and stay within these boundaries. Further, sally clearly stated to the TA that it’s the class teacher role to decide when and what subject is delivered, and for how long, and not to give pupils any information a TA is unsure of, as students can get confused.
All teacher assistants will receive clear expectations in advance (At least 24 hours) as well as instructions, topic and materials. This will enable the TA taking intervention/booster lessons adequate time to ask questions, clarify any issues or misunderstanding in advance of entering the student’s English class.
Teaching assistant training
After the head of English spoke to the teacher assistant department the new TA that covers sally’s booster lessons will receive training, and guidance on dos & don’ts of teaching assistants.
Agreed was that the TA will get support from the school to advance they’re TA career progression towards level 4 and higher level teaching assistant status, although the TA requires more experience, and possible level 4 TA qualification over 2 years. The English department has offered the new TA a little additional responsibility for marking of the booster lessons they deliver, although under the direction, guidance, support and instructions of teachers and head of teaching assistant department.