Teaching assistants – just part of the job?

Linking in to my recent review of Working with Asperger Syndrome in the Classroom by Gill Ansell, this post is going to briefly introduce a topic that comes up often enough if you Google it, has appeared in multiple news sources, and is discussed by teaching assistants themselves quite regularly and yet very little seems to be being done about it.

In the afore mentioned book, there is a section where Ansell writes about getting on with her job through punches, kicks and other forms of physical violence. There’s almost a martyr like quality sometimes in these books – I’ve read on multiple occasions teaching assistants and teachers talking about “keeping their cool and just getting on with that part of their job”. Some teaching assistants reading this will already have been told that being bit, kicked, punched, and so on is just “part of their job”

Think about that again. Teaching assistants who are paid, on average, between £9,000 and £14,000 a year for the work that they do are being told that it is part of their job to put up with physical injury. Many do not get hazard pay or similar.

I know teaching assistants who were told this by their Senior Leadership team shortly after one of their colleagues had been hospitalised.

If you go onto any forum for special educational needs, and particularly autism, and start a discussion then it won’t be long before the same sentiment arises.

“It’s just part of the job”

“If you can’t stand the heat, get out the kitchen”

Then the one-upping might start. Where people talk more and more about the challenging behaviour they’ve experienced and the injuries they’ve had. Some will carry on with the “it’s not big deal” approach and belittle anyone who admits to struggling.

When topics like this come up on autism forums then there are another load of comments that quickly follow:

“Autistic people are never violent unless you’re doing something wrong”

“You must be doing something to upset him/her”

So now we’ve got a teaching assistant looking for support who has essentially been told “suck it up, it’s part of your job, I’ve dealt with much worse and it’s probably all your fault anyway”.

So then people don’t write about their problems and they stop reaching out and asking for help and very soon everyone can pretend that these occurrences are so infrequent that they’re barely even worth talking about. It’s just…they’ve not gone anywhere, it’s that no-one talks about them any more.

Do some teaching assistants make situations worse? Even cause the incidents that are mentioned above? Absolutely – some certainly do. Do they all? No.

Even when there is an identifiable issue, it’s often something completely out of the teaching assistant’s control. Teaching assistants often have very little say in the school – especially one-to-one teaching assistants. So even when the cause of the biting or kicking can be found (and it can’t always, despite discussions with the child, their family, or copious use of ABC or STAR charts) – it may not be something the teaching assistant can do anything about.

The problem might be above them.

The problem might be something that no-one can change.

Teaching assistants often need more training, especially in working with students with autism and other special needs, but that doesn’t mean that being kicked and punched should just be “part of their job” and it certainly doesn’t mean that the issue should be ignored by conveniently dumping all the blame on the teaching assistants.

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