Providing the right support

Issue: Volume 100, Number 9

Posted: 21 July 2021
Reference #: 1HANRo

Sue Nimmo has been a teacher aide for 40 years. Here she reflects on the highs and lows and changes she has seen in the role in that time.

Teacher aide


Q: What led you to become a teacher aide?

Sue: I was a mum in the mid-1970s and I volunteered at Castlecliff School, Whanganui. I actually did many volunteer roles at the school: lunch lady, in the library, gala organisation, school committee treasurer were among them. I also worked as one of the school cleaners. In 1979 I was offered a position of teacher aide in the junior class at Castlecliff. As I could do this and still be at home after school and in the holidays with my own children, I accepted the position.

Q: Where do you work now?

Sue: At present I am working at Tawhero School in Whanganui and have been there for 10 years. I completed 29 years at Castlecliff previous to that. 

Q: What does the job entail?

Sue: My present role is a teacher aide working in the New Entrant class. I work with small groups and assist the children to build their numeracy, writing and phonics knowledge. I also have extra hours from Ministry of Education and Resource Teachers: Learning and Behaviour to work one on one with children supporting their learning, enabling them to work in a secure calm environment which is focused on them.

Q: Has the nature of your job changed much over the years?

Sue: Initially employed in 1979, you didn’t actually work closely with specific children, it was more classroom support. I made the paints and paste and worked alongside the teacher to support learning. I then began working in the ‘Special Needs Class’. It was a limited supervisory role that over time has grown significantly and looks very different from its ‘mother help’ origins.

Then changes came about in the 1990s when a new approach to education came in with Tomorrow’s Schools. The 1989 Education Act changed its thinking around our special needs children. They were mainstreamed into the class environment and began learning alongside their classmates. The role of teacher aide also changed. Many support staff began teacher aide studies through the likes of Massey University. PLD (Professional learning Development) became available. The role of teacher aides developed alongside inclusive education practice. Teacher aides bring knowledge and skills into the learning of each tamariki. The relationships we build with them is the enabler to their future learning.

Q: Do you enjoy working as a teacher aide? What are the best bits?

Sue: The best bits are watching the children we have supported to achieve goals that they would not have been able to; allowing children to reach their potential that they never thought they could. Even if that means supporting them to learn to write their name, simple for some but for others not so, and it is that which makes me love my role.

Q: And the worst bits?

Sue: The worst bits are the insecurity around our role, wondering ‘will I have a position next year?’ The fixed-term issue, when working with children who receive funding; if the child leaves the school our job is no more. There is frustration around this felt by many support staff.

Q: Do you have any particularly vivid, funny or poignant moments from your work as a teacher aide that you would like to share?

Sue: Over all my years in the role there are many tamariki who have remained in my heart. There are many that have gone on from school to become doctors, dentists, chefs and pursue other amazing careers.But there was one very poignant moment a few weeks ago: I needed medical assistance and had Doctor Katie tend to me. She has always been an amazing person – both as a five-year-old when she first arrived at school with the hugest smile to now, as the most amazing doctor.

Q: How important is the teacher aide pay equity settlement to teacher aides?

Sue: The pay equity settlement is historic and it means a huge difference to many teacher aides. It is momentous in education history. I have been able to watch comments coming through like, ‘I can afford a haircut now’, ‘We can have meat tonight’, ‘Gone to buy the children shoes’ and ‘I can now join with my colleagues socially as I can now afford a coffee’.

We have always been strongly supportive advocates for the children we work alongside but from now on we will be paid our worth. This equates to being valued and feeling more connected.

Q: What about the related boost to teacher aide professional learning?

Sue: The Professional Learning and Development fund can only increase the skills and knowledge for us all. To be able to access this fund will mean a huge difference for teacher aides that have long wanted to upskill and become better informed. The tamariki we work with will benefit as well in having trained teacher aides to help them. What the fund offers in the way of courses is amazing. For me it is good  to feel valued and  that our role within education is recognised.

Q: What role would you like to see teacher aides playing in schools in the future?

Sue: Building on the base knowledge we have now, let’s aim for the possibility of no glass ceiling and that with knowledge, support staff can continue with their career pathways that will now be developed. Where will it end? Wait and see.


BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 11:15 AM, 21 July 2021

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