This community blog post comes from Lynn Moore who lives in London, England but sees the same issues as many of us working with children see in any country. Lynn has recently retired after working 25 years as a TA (teaching assistant) and just so happens to be my mum! Below is some of her thoughts on her experiences;
"I started working with young children around 28 years ago. I started as a playgroup helper 2 mornings per week. (Vik do you remember you actually came with me at Chislehurst Christchurch??) You also came to school with me some times, part of your course work was being involved in a classroom, and I also remember you coming on a couple of school trips with me. (Was this an insight /inspiration for you for the future)??
I was there at the play group for approx. 18 months and began to understand the needs of young children, how they play together and what they can achieve. I then went on to become a Lunchtime Supervisor, this was a challenging role, having to intervene in arguments in the lunch hour. I then progressed to a Classroom Assistant. This gave a much more wider view of life for young children in a classroom, the expectations, the abilities and support to those who needed it.
It wasn’t long before I had the feeling/need (or compulsion) to keep working with young children, it gets under your skin. You feel passion for them and a determination for them to succeed. It is stressful, demanding, draining, but you still plod on because of your inbuilt desire to raise the standard of children’s education and well-being. It is important however, to look after yourself along the way. You must find self reflection/relaxation in order to stay afloat!
I totally agree that you have to learn how to deal with stress, downtime, etc as it can manifest then you just become irritable, then lack of sleep, hence a vicious circle. The Teacher I have been working with this past year has been an inspiration. She explained her rules and expectations of the T/As at the start of the academic year, She believes that the rules should be consistent between the staff in that room. Every child matters and needs to be listened to as their ‘worries’ can seem futile to us, but to them it is major events! As adults we need to learn how to help their worries and guide them through difficult aspects they face each day.
In the Early Education world, you really do need to self-reflect - are we being positive to ourselves in order to cope with children? If we are feeling bad, how can we change this, is it a personal feeling or a work environment problem. I have on several occasions had to talk to Higher Level management, it is not wrong to do this and sometimes things need to be highlighted in order to change/correct. Also it is not wrong to say to your co-workers how you feel, how can they possibly know what your feeling if you don’t say? In our classroom we always say 'have a good weekend' on Fridays and then follow up with a quick catch up Monday mornings.
One of the reasons I have stayed in early child care is that some days you feel that ‘enough is enough’ I can’t do this anymore…… but then….... a child suddenly makes a breakthrough, e.g. They can now recite the days of the week in order!!! You look at their face and it just shines out ‘self -achievement’ Yeah, a good feeling, you are so pleased that they have achieved.
Or sometimes a parent may make a comment to you, ‘Thank you for supporting my child, I can see how they have progressed'. This is self satisfaction for me, I’m only a small cog in their educational life, but sometimes small measures are the best achievements.
The role of Teaching Assistants has now changed dramatically, some changes I feel are too pressurized for the little ones. Reception (Kindergarten) children by the end of their 1st year in England should now know 200 key words, this at one stage was 100. Phonics plays a huge fundamental learning bridge these days. It starts in Nursery (preschool) level. I have seen the Phonics level raised within the last couple of years. By the end of Reception they should now be on Phase 4. Again, a couple of years ago, it was acceptable if they could achieve level 2/3. Some children cope, but some don’t. My worry is that when you see a child struggling to keep up, do they then feel insecure, lack confidence, this can then lead to disruption. Some of these little ones are not even 5 yet!
Children are constantly tested….. hmm,. Is this for their progress, or for the ‘expected data sheets’ ?? Children learn at different levels/speeds, you cannot put them all into an ‘expected attainment category’.
Observing young children is key, stand back and watch them engage in activities, they need to learn how to ‘role play’, sort out problems. This will help with social issues and general communication with fellow friends. If they can’t express their feelings, or discuss how they feel at a young age, how are they meant to cope with adult life. It is important to let children talk to you, you find out more about them when the conversation is voluntary, rather than a ‘teacher lead question’, or a learning content attached.
This past week, now that all the levels have been done and the reports have been written - summer is on it's way. It is much more free flow in the outside area in the classroom. Last week I was out there, I pulled up a few weeds and had a general tidy up, there was no actual learning content or theme to be adhered, I was amazed how well they played. I didn’t have to intervene at all to any disagreements, they seemed to sort out themselves. At tidy up time, I explained that we needed to do a good job as in the afternoon the new little new children for next year would be visiting.
I was stunned how well they did this. Some of the girls independently set up a picnic area, they got cushions from the class room and some books for them. They even placed teddies around the picnic area. This was entirely child initiated, it looked so lovely. One of the boys set up the shop, he had tins of food and plastic food on the shelf, he put the shopping baskets by the till. He even tried to write a sign,’wellkum to shop’!!!! These children, I believe, had a sense of self-achievement, they wanted the new children to be happy and enjoy their outside space. How much more can you want from little children to think about others!
I have a connection with Early Childhood Education. I shall miss some aspects of the job, but I will not miss enforcing them to be under pressure for tests, just so that the statistics are right on the paper!!
Thank you Lynn! If you have any responses please leave them in the comments below so they can be discussed. Also if you would like to share your story or some thoughts / reflections please let us know!
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I'm busy working on my blog posts. Watch this space!