How to Become a Teaching Assistant
While classroom teachers receive great recognition for their work, teaching assistants also play a vital role in the education of children and young people and are a tremendous help to school teachers. So if you are just out of university or fancy a career change, this article will guide you through the skills and qualifications that you need to carve a successful career as a teaching assistant!
What a Teaching Assistant Role Entails
Working in the teaching profession is undoubtedly one of the hardest yet most rewarding jobs. Teachers and teacher assistants are responsible for shaping the minds of the future generations which is no small feat. The job description of a teaching assistant is to assist teachers with the classroom management, education and care of pupils. While this job on paper appears relatively straightforward, each teaching assistant’s role differs depending on the individual needs of each teacher and pupils. One day you could be in the classroom helping children with their maths and the next you could be assisting on a museum school trip. Every day as a teaching assistant will be different as will be the environment in which you work. This variation in work makes the role exciting and sets it apart from the mundane nine to five. As a teaching assistant, you will most likely be working in either a primary school or a high school. You can pursue this career on either part-time or full-time basis which makes the role highly flexible.
Primary School Teaching Assistant
As a teaching assistant in a primary school, you will play an important role in providing early childhood education and following the relevant education curriculum. A primary school teacher’s assistant tends to work as a particular teacher’s aide in that they normally take their cues from them and carry out tasks to lessen the workload of the class teacher. As you will be working with very young children you will likely be involved in supervising them during lunchtime in the playground and assisting on school trips and extra curriculum activities throughout the school year. Assistant jobs in primary schools are currently predominately filled by women and so there is a great need for more men to be represented in the profession.
Secondary School Teaching Assistant
As a secondary school teaching assistant, you may be required to work with students of different ages and in various subjects across the school. Just as a primary teaching assistant does you will also be responsible for supporting students from a variety of different backgrounds who may have a range of learning or/and behaviour difficulties. Often teaching assistants are entrusted with looking after small groups of students that perhaps need more help than others, for example, providing tailored education to those who have special educational needs. In many secondary schools, teaching assistants have their own work base which allows them to cater this extra care to pupils with individual needs which pose as barriers to learning. These individual conditions, for example, might include dyslexia or autism.
Before going on to discuss the formal qualifications and experience that are required to be a teaching assistant, it is vital to discuss the transferable skills that are integral to this role. First and foremost, having a passion for children and learning is the key ingredient in providing excellent help and support to children on their education journey, luckily, many mothers share this passion for children. Your personality and enthusiasm for the role will also be assessed at the interview.
As discussed above, the ability to be flexible is a vital skill needed in any role working with children, as every day will be different and will bring with it its own unique set of challenges. Therefore, you need to be able to adapt to new situations and embrace change.
Excellent Communication Skills
As you will be working with both children and adults you will need to feel comfortable communicating with different age groups.
Patience is indeed a virtue when it comes to working in the teaching profession as every child’s needs are different and vary in the degree of support that they require.
Qualifications and Experience Required
A good way to venture into becoming a teaching assistant is to volunteer a few mornings or afternoons with your local school. Volunteering acts as an entry level into the profession and allows you to build up experience working with children and get used to the various tasks that teaching assistants carry out. However, if you have no prior experience working with children or adults UCAS recommends that you explore either of the two qualifications:
Completing either of these qualifications will help improve your employability and give you new skills and experience that can be applied when you land a job as a teaching assistant.
Although you do not require a degree to become a teaching assistant, most schools will ask that you have a solid set of GCSEs or Scottish National 5s to prove that you are competent, especially in the disciplines of maths and English.
UCAS advises that you check what specific qualifications your local education authorities have set for teaching assistants as they can vary from region to region.
As well as academic qualifications, when working with children and other vulnerable groups, the government requires that you undergo backgrounds checks to disclose that you are a responsible and law-abiding citizen. In England, this is referred to as a Disclosure and Barring Service. Through this system, schools can remain confident that they are recruiting safe individuals.
Job Outlook and Progression
Although being a teaching assistant is most definitely a challenging job it is also a highly rewarding career that brings with it excellent job satisfaction. The valuable skills that you learn as a teaching assistant also puts you in an excellent position to pursue a teaching career. You can then choose to become either a primary or secondary teacher or even look into working as an assistant in higher education. Many teaching assistants progress along this route utilising the skills and hands-on experience that they have developed while helping out in the classroom.