In times of larger classes and staff shortages, teachers need extra help in educating the minds of the future and keeping the class clowns under control. That’s where teaching assistants step in.
So, what will I actually be doing?
A teaching assistant works alongside and supports a classroom teacher in either a primary or a secondary school when the little cherubs need help or start misbehaving. Whether you work one-to-one with individual pupils or with small groups, it can be a rewarding job.
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The nitty gritty
Unsurprisingly, you’ll work mainly within the classroom, although sometimes teaching assistants are required to work in separate rooms to help with reading or undertake booster sessions for pupils struggling with a particular subject.
In secondary schools, teaching assistants often work with pupils who have learning difficulties or a disability.
Money, money, money
It may be a rewarding job, but what you really want to know is how much you’ll earn for dealing with painted-covered youngsters or moody teenagers right?
The average salary is around £15,153, although if you’re lucky/unlucky enough to live in inner city areas, the average wage for is nearer £16,000.
However, depending on the post, together with your qualifications and experience, full-time pay can approach £18,000 per year.
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The good points...
Aside from the smug satisfaction that you’re helping to make a difference to a child’s life, this can be a very accommodating job. Whether you're looking for a challenging part-time role or thinking of going into teaching in the long term, it’s an excellent place to start your career.
For those that want to develop as teaching assistants, there’s plenty of scope to push your career towards working as a Higher Level Teaching Assistant. You’ll need to learn further skills and educational development and have the support of the school's head teacher, but once you’ve got that qualification you can provide extra support to teachers, as well as assisting with lesson plans. In some cases, Higher Level Teaching Assistants are also qualified to take lessons in the absence of the teacher.
...and the bad
Not all kids are well behaved, not all kids will stop talking when you ask, and not all of them want to come back and learn when the break is over. It’s partly your job to deal with all of those issues. And when it comes to stepping in as a substitute teacher you may have a classroom ready to test your patience.
Is there study involved?
The good news is you don’t need any formal training or qualifications in order to apply for this job. So if you’ve suddenly decided this is the career for you, it’s not too late, whatever your education and experience.
That said, teaching assistants must be trained to a level that matches their responsibilities. It's ultimately up to the local education authorities and individual schools to decide on exactly what qualifications and experience they expect, but for entry level positions you’ll usually just need to show you have good reading, writing and numeracy skills, and have taken/be willing to take the local authority run Teaching Assistants' Induction Programme.
As always, work experience is always useful, so any time spent working with children or young people is increasingly important, even if it’s just voluntary.
For those that want to add some qualifications to their CV, you can gain an employment-based qualification, such as a Level 2 Certificate for teaching assistants, or an NVQ Level 2 in Supporting Teaching and Learning in Schools.
As standard with anyone who works with children, you will need to have a CRB (Criminal Records Bureau) check in place before you can work as a teaching assistant.
Need additional qualifications? Find a course at our Learning Zone
OK, I'm interested... But is it really the job for me?
Teaching assistants (also known as classroom assistants or learning support assistants in some schools) are there to carry out particular tasks so the class teacher can concentrate on teaching.
Duties may vary dramatically from school to school, but the most common tasks include:
- Supporting and supervising educational games, sports and craft activities
- Helping children with their reading
- Preparing the classroom for a lesson (such as setting up equipment for a science lesson)
- Tidying up at the end of a session (they make the mess, you clear it up, it’s the opposite of living with your parents)
- Putting together displays of children’s work
- Providing extra support for children with special educational needs
- Helping out on school trips
As well as these duties, if a child is upset, falls out with their friends on the playground or has an accident, it’s the teaching assistant’s job to look after them so the rest of the class can carry on learning. Many schools now employ teaching assistants with a particular specialism including literacy, numeracy, music, creative arts or additional languages.
Experienced and specially trained teaching assistants can also be expected to supervise a class for a teacher who is off sick or undertaking training, so you get to be the 'cool substitute teacher' for the day.