When Andrew Riley took a casual teaching assistant role at one of the North East Autism Society’s schools, he had no idea he was walking into his dream career.

 After completing his Postgraduate Certificate in Education in London, Andrew moved back to the North-east and quickly secured a job as a Learning Development Manager with Intu. 

However, when the company went into administration at the start of last year, Andrew found himself unemployed – so he decided to return to teaching and began applying for supply positions.

Despite requesting a placement in mainstream education in Newcastle, the 32-year-old found himself placed at Thornhill Park School, operated by NEAS, in Sunderland. 

“If I am honest, I expected to be here for half a day,” Andrew says. “But I absolutely loved it, so I stayed.”

Andrew joined NEAS as a Level 2 Teaching Assistant on a temporary contract, before being offered a permanent TA role in September 2020. Then, at the end of last year, Andrew moved into a teaching post at the school.

Despite his initial reservations, Andrew says he now can’t picture himself doing anything else and is so glad he took the opportunity when it presented itself.

“You have to be willing to forget everything you know about conventional methods of teaching,” he explains.

“It is a huge adjustment to go from standing in front of a class of 30 to having only eight students – and those students can be spread across two classes, with two learners based off-site, and each requiring a completely bespoke way of teaching. 

It can feel like having eight different classes, but I really like that I can get to know the kids. I feel really invested in their lives and futures.

Andrew, who was born and raised in Whickham, said the biggest difference between teaching for the Society and mainstream education is that staff have to be willing, and able, to be flexible when it comes to delivering lessons – and rightly so.

“I had to adapt myself,” he says. “Because the kids weren’t going to change to suit me.”

“Working here, you have to be a good listener and be able to communicate. It can be quite a demanding job, but everyone is working towards the same outcomes for the children.”

Not only did Andrew secure a full-time contract with the school in 2020 and embark on his NQT (newly qualified teacher) year, the Society also paid for him to complete a pathological demand avoidance course, and he now delivers training to his colleagues within the school.

People think they have to know everything when they come into the Society, but everyone here is willing to help you and give you advice, the support is there.

Asked what his advice would be to anyone who is thinking of applying for a role with the Society, Andrew says “give it a go”, adding: “I am so glad I did – it’s not for everyone but if you’re willing to come with an open mind, and heart, it can be the best decision you ever make." 

“You learn a lot about yourself in the process and you will feel like your job has purpose,” he says. “It’s an emotionally invested job … but it’s all about making a difference.

Everything you do has purpose; it directly impacts someone’s life. I can honestly say I love my job.

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