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Primary Education News
News Why I became a teaching assistant: working as a TA fits into my family life
On the eve of National Teaching Assistant Day, Rob Porter tells Emily Drabble why he loves his stimulating and creative role in school – and how much he values being there for his own kids
I was a teenager in the 1980s and very much part of generation X. In those days I didn't really have any career ambitions. I was very left wing and didn't want to be part of the rat race, and there were a lot of rats around at that time. I took an alternative point of view.
I was living in Edinburgh with my girlfriend when she found out she was pregnant. I was only 22. She had a good job but had been in it for less than two years – in those days that meant no maternity leave. She took all her year's holiday in one go and was able to have a few weeks off. So I stayed at home to look after our daughter.
I was thought being a house husband was really exciting. Everyone's at it now, but at that time it was so rare there was actually a Channel 4 documentary about it.
We moved to London and had our second daughter when I was around 27. She went to a pre-school for a couple of hours a day where part of the deal was parents had to volunteer two sessions every half term. I enjoyed it.
When a member of staff left and I was persuaded to take on her role just for a couple of weeks. Two years later I was still there.
I think working in a pre-school is the hardest job ever. It's so emotionally and physically tiring – I think it's the noise that does it. But I found I had a natural aptitude for working with children. I would take my guitar and play a lot of nursery rhymes. I don't know if it calmed the children but it certainly calmed me down. I used the skills I had gained from parenting in the nursery setting, from empathy to first aid.
When my son started at St John's and St Clement's primary school I did some volunteer reading work. One of the children I'd looked after at pre-school was a pupil at the school and was having some problems settling in so I was asked to pop down to reception and see if I could help and I ended up being offered a part-time job. That has now grown to very much a full-time role.
The thing about my job – and it's the reason so many mums do it – is it completely fits in with family life. I have been able to drop off and pick up my children and be there for them in the evening and cook them dinner and so on. I've been able to spend every holiday with them. Now my children have all left primary school, it's still important to be around. When they get back from school I can be there to support them.
It's also meant my partner can spend a lot of time with the kids despite working full time, because I'm very much the house husband.
I've worked at St John's and St Clement's for more than five years and have worked with different teachers across the school. We are a resourced school for the deaf and I've got to do some specialist work with deaf children and other children with special needs including autism. I work really closely with classroom teachers and other TAs and it's a real team effort.
At the moment I'm doing a level 3 award in support teaching and learning through the school.
Being a TA is a wonderful job but you need to be so calm and patient to do it. I think the most challenging thing about the job is trying to do everything at once. You'll be juggling at certain times – perhaps a child will be crying, you'll be doing book bags, nobody's listening and the class teacher needs you to do something else. But the trick is to stay calm and not lose your temper.
The other side of it is that all the children love you. Within school it's like being a superstar – especially if you can do cool stuff such as a few magic tricks. Children tell you they love you every day and it's very sweet. But you have to be prepared for how fleeting this fame is, two years later the same kids won't even look at you in the street! Then again you could tell One Direction the same thing. All this adoration does make you feel good but it's not the main reason you go to work.
What I love about being a TA is the variety. No two days are the same. I have the opportunity to use my music skills – I get to play and also teach guitar – I can be arty, creating props and backdrops for school plays as well as class art work, I get to use my brain, solve puzzles, help children reach their full potential and generally be useful. Other jobs I've had are not so satisfying.
I have toyed with training as a teacher myself but I think not yet. Teaching isn't a 9-to-5 job, it's an 8-to-8 job, seven days a week. We are on the eve of a general strike which I'm fully in support of as government action is very demoralising. I'm proud to be part of a great team.
I'm someone who goes with the flow rather than having a specific plan. Opportunities seem to come my way. What I've always put first is my children. So many dads don't get to see their kids and my primary role is still to be a dad. I almost think of my job as a hobby as I love it so much.
Rob Porter is year 2 teaching assistant at St John's and St Clement's school in south east London.