Reading time: 4 minutes
At times of recruitment difficulties in schools, the path of Tracey Stonell, a teaching assistant-turned-teacher, is an inspiration to others who are considering changing career or progressing from a support role in school to a teaching role.
Before I was a teaching assistant, I worked in shops in the retail and business sectors, and for local government organisations– whatever fitted in with my life at the time (I was married and had children while still young). I had always wanted to work in schools, but never had the opportunity.
Then, when my youngest son was in year 2, his headteacher told me there was a TA role coming up. I said I had no job-specific qualifications; he replied, “I’m looking for the person, not the qualifications.” So I applied and got the job in the infant school. Over the following year or so I found the means to get the teaching assistant Level 2 qualification.
I worked there for two years, but decided that infants was not where my heart was. I successfully applied to be a year 6 TA at Eastland Primary School. While working there I achieved the teaching assistant Level 3 qualification.
One thing that inspired me at that stage was using my understanding of maths to lead the learning of higher ability year 6 pupils in maths. The teacher encouraged me, and together we planned what the pupils would need on top of the main classroom teaching to enable them to get to the higher levels. I then taught those extra skills. All those children achieved or exceeded their targets in the end of KS2 assessments.
Then, with the insistence of my head Jo Corrigan (who is also SSAT’s head of primary) and my husband’s encouragement, I took an Open University degree. That was the start of it really. The degree took six years, as I was working full-time as well. I mainly studied a course called Mathematics and its Learning, which was suitable for the higher level year 6 maths.
But I hit a ‘maths wall’ at one point, and never wanted to see a number again! So I converted to an open degree, which involves gaining 360 credits but in a variety of subjects of your choice. In my case this included creative writing, for example, though in the end my course was still predominantly maths.
When it comes to initial teacher training, the course administrators decide whether the degree content is enough for what they have in mind, and luckily in my case the university decided it was. I finished the PGCE with a merit.
Becoming a teacher
Now, as a teacher at Campion secondary school in Northamptonshire, I’m responsible for 10 classes of 30 pupils each. It’s a warm and welcoming school. Its ethos fits my ethos: developing rounded pupils. Its motto is care, commit, contribute. So far I’ve had good results and positive feedback from pupils.
Here, as at the primary school, I’m part of the anti-bullying ambassadors scheme, that’s something I learned from Jo Corrigan and brought on to this school. I’m a year 10 form tutor, and do training and development work with colleagues. I help run open evenings. Whenever there’s an opportunity to do a little bit more outside the school day, I always grab that.
Do I regret it? Never. Nothing beats a lesson that goes how you want and a pupil saying, “Miss – I get it!” – though sometimes it doesn’t, obviously. I’m still very new to secondary, still learning the basics. And it’s still a fresh passion.
Tracey’s former headteacher Jo Corrigan recalls: “The unwavering dedication Tracey showed throughout her years to become a teacher is an inspiration to anyone who is considering a change of career or taking the next step after being an experienced TA. I was thrilled when I heard the news that she had secured her first teaching post, as she will have a positive impact on the lives of many children for years to come.”
For those considering the move from TA to teacher: some suggestions
- Consider something you have always wanted to do: if that’s to teach, go for it.
- What have you learned from your experience so far that might be relevant? How might you be able to use it to get and keep the job you want?
- Let your headteacher know your ambitions.
- Think how you can apply your particular knowledge, skills and understanding.
- Seek expert (and family) help to enable you to progress.
- Be prepared to gain the relevant qualifications.
- Be adaptable; change your plans if necessary.
- Whatever you do, seek something where the ethos matches yours.