A day in the life of a TA and mother

This isn’t one of my usual blogs. I wanted to make a record of my day, as a way of stepping back and observing my typical daily life, juggling work and family. The result may not be everyone’s cup of tea. Apologies in advance for what sounds like a stream of consciousness.

AM

Radio alarm bleeps. It’s 7am. Get out of bed, go to the bathroom, get dressed. Go downstairs, switch on coffee machine and plonk two weetabixes in a bowl. Add milk and pop the bowl in the microwave. Put this breakfast on the table and call out to the boy. While he eats, sort out his packed snack. Make sure his bottle is filled. Check his PE kit in the sports bag. Drat. Track suit bottoms look a bit muddy. Quick get the wet wipes and make wearable. Mental note to wash them tonight. Sort out my pack lunch. Pour the coffee, make some eggs and toast. Wolf them down, look at the clock. Time to get moving. Remind the boy to brush his teeth and mouthwash. Shoes on, mobile phone into handbag, fish out my school lanyard and keys. Chivvy the boy along.

“Hurry up, we’re going to be late.”

“Mummy I’ve got a poo.”

Sigh. Bowel movements have become a bit unpredictable lately. Used to be an evening affair but he has needed to go after breakfast twice this week. Make a mental note to factor this new development into my timings.

Finally, we’re out the door. Traffic seems ok this morning, we should make it to school on time. As we near the school gates, the boy exclaims “I forgot! I should have come in to school wearing something yellow today.” It’s World Mental Health Day. He was supposed to wear yellow in solidarity and bring in a pound. Another sigh. “Never mind”, I say, “tell them you didn’t have something yellow to wear.” A half-truth. There’s a yellow T-shirt buried somewhere in his wardrobe. No time now to worry about it, so I drop him off and drive on to my own school, a 15-minute journey away. I approach at a slow space, scanning for parking spaces. Impatient car behind me wants me to speed up. Give up on this road and turn off on to a side street. Am I going to be lucky today or will I have to park further afield? My eagle eyes spot a gap further ahead. Bingo.

Look at my watch as I walk towards the school gates. Fifteen minutes early. The job supposedly starts at 9.00, when the children come in, but everyone knows that a responsible TA will arrive earlier than that to help set up. I try not to be too early. I have a thing about unpaid work. If there’s too many minutes to spare, I usually stay in my car and browse Twitter on my phone for a while, until I deem it a sensible time to make my appearance. I’m greeted with lots of cheery good mornings as I make my way towards the classroom – one of the things I like about my school. And then the working day starts.

The bell goes off and I go to the Reception playground gate to let the children in. Many happy smiles and thankfully no tears today. I bid them good morning and direct them to their pegs.  This bit feels something like a shepherd mustering his sheep. A melée develops, as each child reaches up to hang their coats, and open their bags to take out their reading folder, then try to put the bag on the peg. Inevitably a coat or two falls to the floor, which I pick up and hang properly. Some children look unsure as to what to do, others start chatting away and forgetting to get on with it. Chivy, chivy, muster, muster.

Finally, they’re all in and sitting on the carpet. Handover to the teacher, who starts taking the register. Meanwhile I sit at my desk and individually look through each reading folder, taking books out and replacing them with new ones, trying to make sure I give out something at the correct reading level. We’re less than half a term in, and already there is a wide range of reading ability. Each week I read one-to-one with half the class, while the teacher reads with the other half. Then we swap. I’ve got a fairly good idea by now where most children are with their reading, but it’s still a bit tricky to find the right book. We do book changes three times a week, so I need to look through the reading record and make sure I’m not giving out the same book twice. Now I’ve gone from being a shepherd to a librarian. While I’m at it, I also check the parent communication forms and respond as appropriate. By now, the literacy lesson has begun, and I pause every now and then to note down an observation or two – these then get stuck in the children’s learning journey books, a type of ongoing formative assessment.

It’s choosing time. Doors open and the children free flow between the classroom and the Reception playground. I must confess that for a long time, I have not been particularly fond of choosing time. It’s basically glorified play and yes, I accept that young children learn through play, but I much prefer the more structured learning time on the carpet. It can get rather noisy and messy during choosing time.

While the children are playing, I try to find a quiet spot to do my one-to-one reading, which is a bit of a challenge. Ideally, I’d want to do the reading in a quiet room somewhere or in a cosy alcove in some corner. Unfortunately, that cannot be. I need to be around to supervise and am keeping an eye around me all the while I’m helping a child to sound out the letters to a word. Annoyingly, the other children don’t seem to get the message to leave us alone when we are reading. The interruptions are endless sometimes. There is something about modern children and the way they feel entitled to demand a grown up’s attention at any time. It’s one of the less desirable results of child centred education. From the cradle up, children are given the message that the world revolves around them and their needs. I’ve been guilty of doing that with my son too, to my lasting regret (trying to remedy the situation now). So, it can be tricky to keep a child’s attention on the page they are reading when there are so many distractions around them. Sensory overload.

It’s tidy-up time, a ritual we go through three times a day, though the last one involves a much more thorough tidying. Now I’m a general, bellowing out the orders. “Pick up those bricks behind you please”, “take that scooter back please”, “please put away the dressing up clothes”. Of course, there’s always the naughty ones who ignore the summons and carry on playing. A reminder is sent their way: “It’s tidy-up time, not playing time. Please stop what you’re doing and help out.” General me walks about the playground, inspecting the work and nodding approvingly when I see good tidying – taking mental note to give stickers to a few children who have been extra helpful.

Once back inside, it’s time to get ready for lunch. Here’s another daily ritual. Children sit on the carpet and I call out names, two at a time, for them to go to the toilet and wash their hands. I choose the children who are sitting quietly with their legs crossed – they will be first in the lunch queue as a reward. Once we have a nice line established, it’s time to walk to the lunch hall – the teacher usually catches up with us once she’s finished doing her writing or maths work with a handful of pupils. We walk to the lunch hall in complete silence – it’s not just Michaela kids who walk in silence! It’s something I’m particularly pleased about with my new school.

And then lunch. Ah yes, a manic half hour, managing the children with their food trays, getting them to sit and encouraging them to finish off the food on their plates. I used to bemoan the amount of food that got wasted at my last school. Children would pick at their food, throw it away and then help themselves to some cake and custard. At this school, there is a real focus on getting them to eat a variety of foods. Children are not allowed to turn their tray over and eat their pudding without permission. I walk around the aisles, inspecting plates, encouraging, modelling the use of a knife and fork and checking to see who finishes up all their food. At the end of the week, I hand out stickers to these children. So far this week, I’ve counted about a dozen in my class who have eaten up all their food. Not bad, but I hope we can improve that statistic as we go along.

PM

The clock strikes midday, and blessedly I’m off duty. The staff room provides a welcome refuge from the hustle and bustle of the lunch hall. Time to relax and recharge – and get into the queue for the microwave. Convivial chat as I eat, while I share the day’s experiences with TAs and teachers working in other year groups. Check my phone for messages, do some quick Twitter scrolling. Then back to work.

The afternoon is usually a bit more laid back. Perhaps it’s because the children have had an hour to run about in the playground, and they’re a bit tired out. We start with phonics, using the Sounds-Write instruction programme, for which I am full of praise. I’m currently doing Sounds-Write training one day a week and am impressed with the approach taken: direct instruction, explicit modelling and practice, with a cumulative step-by-step learning programme that takes into account cognitive load. The approach reminds me a little of Rosenshine’s principles of instruction. Very clear, very focused, with no extraneous information, lots of writing practice from day one.

With the phonics lesson over, we’re back to choosing. I may have some interventions to do, otherwise I carry my iPad and do a couple of observations. Then it’s tidy-up time. Finally, the children sit on the carpet and have some fruit and milk. And then one last ritual: getting ready for home time. Collecting bags and coats, handing out reading folders, collecting jumpers from the jumpers’ box. Some chill out time with a story, and then I open the gates and let parents in. As soon as the children are collected, it’s time for me to go, rushing to pick up my boy from his school.

It’s a frantic rush to get there with some traffic hotspots to negotiate. As soon as I catch sight of the boy, standing patiently next to his teacher, my heart lifts. I can recognise his little elfin face and tufty hair from a distance. My boy. It’s good to see him. I’m so glad I can pick him up at the end of his school day and not have to put him in after-school care. Another reason why I’m giving teacher training a miss next year.

And then we’re back home, and I’m straight into the kitchen to prepare dinner for a famished young boy (and a famished me, I must confess). My other half gets in, and we catch up on each other’s day. Before long, it’s time for homework, which I try not to get involved in too much. However, some frustrated moans are coming my way, so I decide to give a helping hand. I end up giving a lesson on long multiplication and realising yet again just how important both number bonds and times table knowledge is. I thought my boy had memorised his times tables but notice that the 8 times table has not been embedded into long term memory. I do wish children were made to practise these more at school – I’m fairly certain my mother never had to help teach me my times tables, it was all drilled into me at school.

On to bath, bedtime and reading. I used to find this a real chore, but lately we have been reading some fabulous books and it’s been a joy to share them with my boy, who is otherwise a reluctant though proficient reader. We’re currently enjoying “The Secret Garden”, a timeless classic which funnily enough I never read as a child.

It’s close to 9pm when I finally can sit down and unwind. Not for long, as I still need to put a wash in the machine and clear up the kitchen. My other half will have obligingly rinsed and stacked the dishes for me. Try to get all that sorted and then sit down to read, write my blog and check my Twitter feed. Also need to sort out the online grocery order for the weekend. Watch Newsnight, then it’s up to bed.

What busy lives we lead (and I know mine is by no means the busiest). I do wish sometimes for a less jam-packed day. I just wish we could all slow down the pace and take the time to savour our days a little more.

 

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