How to become a teaching assistant
Are you looking for a job that will be both rewarding and fulfilling? Do you have a caring patient, and empathetic nature and like working with children? A job as a teaching assistant appeals to many of us but it can be daunting trying to work out the best way to enter the profession, particularly with the dizzying number of courses available for you to take.
I want to be a teaching assistant where do I start?
The first thing to consider is what sort of teaching assistant role you would like, would you like to work in a pre-school, a primary school, a secondary school or a special needs school? In making this decision you should give thought to where you want to work as a teaching assistant, if you’re looking for a job that will fit in with your school age children then you may be confined to schools in your local area. This will mean that you’ll need to make a limited decision as to where you want to work based on the schools that exist in your local area.
Once you have identified where you would like to work, the next step is to find out what is required to become a teaching assistant in that area. As there are no nationally recognised qualifications for teaching assistants local authorities are left to set their own guidelines as to what is required from teaching support staff. So it’s well worth starting to have a look online and in your local press to see if you can find any current or recently expired job adverts for TAs in your area that will allow you to glean what is required. If you’re not able to find any relevant job adverts then consider contacting your local authority directly.
After finding out what is required to work in your chosen geographical location, it’s time to start contacting schools to attempt to find out if they have any jobs available and/or what qualities they are looking for in a TA when jobs are available. Before contacting schools, take some time to consider the best way to make your first move, do you have a contacts in your friends/social network who could provide you with an in? If you have school age children, maybe you could speak to the school where your children attend?
Even if you don’t find a job from your first contact with a school they well provide invaluable pointers as to where you can make your next enquiry. Following these conversations, if you’re lucky, you may find a job opportunity has opened up if not you’ll least have valuable information about what you need to do to gain the job you’re looking for. Depending on what is required you may then need to look into training opportunities or perhaps look to take a volunteer position in the local area.
Do you need qualifications to be a teaching assistant?
The important thing to remember when answering this question is that there is no set entry-level qualification for teaching assistants, but local authorities are able to set guidelines as to what they are looking for when appointing people into TA positions. So if you are looking for a definitive answer then it would be worth making enquiries with the relevant local authorities to find out what they are looking for. Speaking more broadly, teaching assistants will need to have good reading, writing and arithmetic skills as well as having a flair for organisation and an ability to communicate well with others.
Most local authorities and schools will also be looking for people who have experience in caring for children, ideally in an educational setting. Whilst this experience may not be a requirement, it will certainly not harm your candidacy if you already have this experience and it is likely to be looked on favourably if you have undertaken volunteer work to gain the relevant experience.
As with all professions that include caring for children as part of the job description you will need undergo a criminal records check before starting a job as a TA. A school would typically carry out an enhanced background check through the Disclosure and Barring Service before finally accepting anyone into a teaching assistant position.
Finally, there are huge number of qualifications available for would be teaching assistants, you may have seen a number of them being advertised and discussed online. Due to the choice available it can be a little daunting deciding which course you should take, because of this we would advise contacting schools first to see what they require before committing yourself to a course that may not be relevant to getting a job in your chosen geographical area.
What skills do you need to be a teaching assistant?
As local authorities are able to set their own guidelines as to what they require from teaching assistants it’s not possible to give a definitive answer to this question. We would however think that broadly speaking the following skills will be much in demand -
Good reading, writing and arithmetic skills – As it’s likely that you’ll be taking part in one to one work with children the ability to read and write well is likely to be high on the requirement list for any TA position. Some schools/local authorities will stipulate that candidates should have GCSE level Maths and English at a minimum grade C level.
Patience Patience is a key skill when working with children, and schools are likely to want to see that you have displayed this skill in previous positions that you have held during your career. If your CV lacks any previous childcare experience it may well be worth taking up a volunteer position to boost your skill set.
Organisational skills TAs will often be used by schools to coordinate classroom activities, this may include setting up the classroom for a special lesson or overseeing a group of children whilst on a school trip. If you have a lot of organisational experience, even it has not been specific to organising children then this may well be looked upon favourably when your make your application.
A specialist skill This is a bit of a vague requirement, but a specialist skill that you have such an expertise in IT or a particular language may well be looked upon favourably by a school if it can help ease a problem area that they have. For this reason it always worth trying to find out a bit of background about the school before you contact them/apply for a job, it may just be that you have the exact skills they are looking for!
What sort of things would I do if I became a TA?
A teaching assistants main focus is to work alongside a teacher in a primary or secondary school. Their job is likely entail working with pupils on either a one to one basis or in small groups.
Typically, you would take on the following responsibilities -
- Helping teachers set up for a particular lesson. They may, for instance, be in charge of setting up the materials for an art lesson that required special materials preparing for each pupil.
- Giving one to one tuition to pupils, a teaching assistant may help out pupils struggling with a particular topic by giving them focussed tuition.
- Dealing with pupils who have specific emotional or educational issues (or who have just had an accident) so the teacher is able to focus their time on the rest of the class.
- Helping out with group outings or sporting events such as weekly trip to the local swimming baths.
Sometimes, your duties may be linked to a special skill that you can bring to a classroom environment. You may, for instance, have particularly strong IT skills or be able to speak a foreign language.
How much can I earn ?
In a direct contrast to teachers, the pay of a TA is not governed by national pay scales. So a TA’s pay will either be set by the school itself, or via the school’s local authority. Because of this rates of pay can vary from area to area. There has been talk of regulating pay in the past, but these plans were shelved by the coalition government when they came to power in the UK in 2010.
In addition to these local variations, a teaching assistant’s pay is also governed by how many weeks a year they are paid, some assistants are able to be paid all year round (i.e. they are paid in school holidays) whilst some TAs are only paid in term time.
A 2009 survey revealed that most TA’s took home an annual salary that was between 12 and 14 thousand pounds.
What hours would I need to work ?
One of the reasons that people are attracted to TA positions is that they are able to work in school hours, which means they are available to spend time with their own children after the school day is over. It also means that they are able enjoy the school holidays with their children.
Whilst some positions are full time, many are part-time, with TAs maybe only working 2 or 3 days each week.
Where can I find jobs?
Jobs are often advertised on the internet and in the local and national press, so it is always worth checking both the printed and online media for job opportunities. It also well worth getting in touch with schools in your area to see if they have any jobs available. Even if no jobs are immediately available, it is often possible to build up relationships with local schools via volunteering and then when jobs do become available you are in the perfect position.
Many currently employed teaching assistants have been able to find jobs through their existing network of contacts, do you have a family member or friend who works as a teacher or has close ties with a local school? They may be ideally placed to find you your next position.
Are on-line training courses worthwhile?
As there are no standard qualifications for teaching assistants (each TA job has it’s requirements set by the local authority or school that advertises the position) there is no guarantee that gaining qualifications either on-line or via local colleges will guarantee you a teaching assistant position. We would advise that you firstly spend some time researching the jobs available in your area, and what qualifications they require, before deciding whether to spend money on on-line courses. Having said that, there is no reason why an on-line course would not help you to get a job, but you firstly need to decide which online course would be most beneficial to you (see the section below this one).
I don’t understand the difference between all of the courses that are available
There are a dizzying numbers of teaching assistant courses available, and it can be hard to work out which courses would suit you best, especially as it can be hard to find course information on the internet. We’ve found that this pdf document explains things in the clearest fashion, and we have also found that this forum thread on the times educational supplement website provides some valuable information. If you’re still scratching your head you could also have a look at our ‘Teaching assistant courses – explained‘ article.