In 2020, after losing my waitressing job due to Covid, I became a teaching assistant at a secondary school in Birmingham. My role as a TA, as we’re known, was to provide support for students with special needs and those with English as a second language. There should have been three of us to cater for around 200 students, but for a third of the year, there was only me. Budget issues.
During the pandemic, TAs were not allowed to be in classrooms, where we are usually based. Instead I worked from a small room where, from 8am until home time, there was a constant carousel of door knocks: students who needed help with reading or maths, or who had no money for lunch, or whose uniform had ripped, or who felt anxious and needed a quiet place to sit. Often these students had a complex tangle of needs ranging from autism and anger management to low literacy.
Sometimes during the lockdowns, TAs were the only members of staff in schools, keeping them open for children who could not stay at home. I remember February 2021, when it snowed, and how relieved we were that there was enough snow for everyone to make a snowman in the playground. A natural and joyous delivery and, for once, enough supplies to go around.