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October 5, 2018

Michelle Thraves: Success and Sanity in the Time of Nappies, Naps and Meal Times

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Smiling young woman and two small children

Meet Michelle. If you read any story today, let it be this one.

To some people, Stonebridge is just a college or nothing more than an online, faceless institution. To others, it is just a means to an end. To Michelle, it meant confidence in her abilities, new skills and the diploma that can prove it all. And a much needed mental break from motherhood.

I first started my Stonebridge journey in 2015. I had just taken voluntary redundancy a few months before ending my 13 years career at the airport. I came to learn, the hard way, that working 12 hours shifts, days and nights, did not reconcile with the schedule of two young children.

My eldest has just started school. While I looked for a more suitable job, I started volunteering in his class. It was his class teacher that suggested I do a teaching assistant course. After a month looking for a suitable course, I eventually came across Stonebridge. I liked how accessible the website and courses were – with other providers you practically needed a degree just to figure out how it all works, and that’s before you even got to look at their courses.

I knew distance learning was for me as I couldn’t commit to regular lessons. My husband was working shifts and I had to work around my children. I did my coursework in the evening when the children were in bed, or during the day when the baby napped. It was nice to have something to focus on and learn; it kept me sane during the monotony of nappies, naps and meal times.

I spent 2015 volunteering and studying. I immediately fell in love with the work and I often found myself wondering why I hadn’t moved into this career years ago! Initially, I found the course difficult. It had been a while since I left college in 2002. But after plucking up the courage to call the tutors, I was quickly reassured and put on the right track. They were always patient and friendly and took the time to ensure I understood what was required of me. I typically completed one assignment every four weeks, although the “Safeguarding” one took significantly longer – mostly because it made for some harrowing reading during my research.

By the time I had two assignments left from completing the course, I decided to apply for jobs. Just to get some interview experience. The first teaching assistant position I applied for was a part-time, Monday to Friday at a little school called Risley Primary School.

The interview consisted of four parts: a face to face, a pupil panel, a session with the children and a personality test. I found myself interviewing alongside experienced teaching candidates and it was a little daunting. But I’d already chalked this up as interview experience, and with the course knowledge fresh in mind, I wasn’t as nervous as I might have been had I thought I really had a shot. To this day I’m still not quite sure how I did it, but an hour later they called and offered me the job.

I am still here now. Our school is small. I teach reception phonics every day and a reception gross motor lesson once a week. But I also help develop fine motor activities, assist with provisional activities, outdoor play area, the herb garden, school display, and role play… In fact, anything I can help out with to make it better for the children, I will.

Image collage of young woman, 2 small children and child activities

Michelle’s personal archive – Michelle, some of her projects and her two young sons

Last year, my headteacher asked if I wanted to take my Higher Level Teaching Assistant qualification. It was quite nerve-wracking to think I might step up so soon into my career. He suggested I do my course with Stonebridge again. It was less pressing than a formal classroom and I was able to start immediately rather than wait 6 months for the next local authority to provide a course.

A lot of the course material was building on my previous TA course knowledge; having that as a foundation really helped. As life would have it, several family illnesses took up my time and attention, and I couldn’t work through the course as quickly as I would have liked. Luckily, the course was flexible enough, which meant I didn’t need to drop out for missing a deadline. I just caught up when I could, with no extra worries about tutors harassing me for the work. This was a huge comfort, as I already felt guilty for not finishing within my own designated 6 months. It took me 10.

Passing, with a distinction nonetheless, was a huge confidence boost. Doing this course has given me the confidence and base knowledge to carry on progressing my TA career.  I now plan, prepare and teach PSHE (personal, social, health and economic) to my class for 45 minutes once a week. Recently, the headteacher has mentioned funding that will allow me to run a programme for our SEN (special educational needs) children.

My hope for the future is to develop my SEN knowledge as I have a special passion for nurturing and helping these children. My own son is going through an ASD (autism spectrum disorder) and the knowledge I’ve gained through these courses has helped me massively to understand him better.

Career-wise this was the best decision I ever made. It fits nicely with our family life. The skills and knowledge I’ve gained have helped me be a better parent and ultimately I found my passion in life. The course is flexible, the content is interesting and stimulating and the staff I found is friendly and helpful. So for any of you considering a teaching assistant course, I would say “go for it!


N.B. This story has been edited for clarity.

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