If you’re reading this, you’re probably working as, or thinking about becoming, a teaching assistant. Having worked as a teaching assistant and learning support assistant for two years in both a Primary and then a Secondary school, I thought I would look back on my time and offer up some advice for any new teaching assistants out there.
Don’t forget to tell us any of your top TA tips in the comments!
While many people work as teaching assistants with the hope of becoming a teacher, working as a teaching assistant or learning support assistant can provide great experience for a number of other fields, from social work to speech and language therapy. As a teaching assistant, you gain many transferable skills that could prove invaluable in any jobs that involve youth or support work.
While I worked as a learning support assistant, I was given the opportunity to assist the speech and language therapist, giving me an insight in to speech and language therapy. I was also a student mentor, giving me a taste of what it might be like to work as a counsellor. When working in schools, you are always surrounded by opportunities to gain extra experience, from running an extra-curricular club to supporting pastoral services. It’s definitely worth socialising with your colleagues to see what opportunities are out there for you.
Draw boundaries with teachers
Many teaching assistants work across different classes with different teachers throughout the school day rather than working with one class specifically. This can unfortunately mean that some teachers may take you for granted and ask you to carry out any number of tasks that are not a good use of your time or skills.
Your job is to provide support to teachers and students and this can include all manner of tasks like photocopying, preparation of classroom resources and even contacting parents. Your job is not to make the teacher their morning coffee. To be clear, it’s totally fine to go above and beyond and carry out responsibilities outside of your job description, but just be aware that you are allowed to say no if you feel you are being taken for granted. There’s no need for a big confrontation, just explain that it may not be the most appropriate use of your time.
Draw boundaries with students
As a teaching assistant, students will often see you as more approachable than the teacher, usually because you are amongst the students as opposed to being stood at the front of the class. Students may find it easier to confide in you as a result of this, especially if you are younger than the teacher and female.
While it’s totally fine to build strong relationships with students, you need to remember that you are not their friend and that there still needs to remain a wall of professionalism between you and the student. If you are working with students who have extra needs or social and emotional problems, they may also start to become reliant on you. Remember that while you are there to support them, you are also there to encourage independence.
When it comes to safeguarding, if a student confides in you about something important that may be putting themselves or others at risk, you must always alert your pastoral lead, even if the student made you promise not to tell anyone. Speaking from experience, I had a student confide in me about self harm. They were ashamed and didn’t want me to tell anyone, but I made it clear to them that it was my responsibility to help them and that meant getting them help by telling someone.
Be smart with your finances
One downside of working as a teaching assistant is that the pay is often very low. Sadly, school budgets are stretched, and teaching assistants often make less than £16,000 a year. This may mean having to cut back or even get a summer job to top up your finances when school is closed over summer. Many teaching assistants also do private tutoring which is a great way to add to your experience working in education.
You have authority
As a teaching assistant, it can sometimes feel difficult to establish authority in the classroom. In my experience, particularly as a young female TA, not that many years or older than some of the students I was supporting, it can feel especially hard to manage behaviour. I had a few students say to me that they didn’t have to do what I said, because I’m “not the teacher.” This is simply not acceptable.
If you have trouble with establishing authority in the classroom, it’s a good idea to speak to the teacher and ask them to help you solidify your place in the classroom. The teacher should set some ground rules for the students so that they know that you too are an authority figure. It’s also a good idea to check out your school’s behaviour policy so you know what the set procedures are for dealing with difficult behaviour. Remember that as a TA, you have the power to give detentions and ring parents! Equally, you also have the power to send home a positive postcard!
On the flip side of that, you should not be used as a tool to manage the class for teachers who have poor behaviour management skills. While you should support the teacher, it is not your responsibility to prop up a teacher who cannot control their class.
Being a TA or LSA is hugely rewarding and will give you an abundance of great experiences and memories. I’d love to hear any of your experiences working as a TA and any of your top tips!
RealiseMe offers plenty of teaching and TA jobs as well as allowing you to book supply teaching and TA work with schools, free of agencies. With no agency fees, schools pay less, and you can earn up to 15% more!