How to become a teaching assistant: Everything you need to know

3 mins
February 25, 2022
What do Hugh Jackman and Princess Diana have in common? They both worked as teaching assistants before soaring to stardom! Whilst being a teaching assistant doesn't usually lead to marrying a prince or starring in action movies, they ARE the unsung heroes of the classroom. During the height of the pandemic, schools saw many teaching assistants step up to teach zoom classes or the children of essential workers in schools. So what does the work involve? And, what are the subspecialties within the field? Read on to find out!

What is a teaching assistant?

As a teaching assistant, you'll support students in their educational, emotional and social development either individually, in groups or as a whole class. You'll also help the teacher by freeing up their time; help could mean preparing the classroom for lessons or making resources for teaching.

What does a teaching assistant do?

Duties vary depending on experience, training, the type of institution you work for and TA status. Generally, teaching assistants:

  • ensure that students can engage and stay on task during the lesson or activity so that they can become independent learners
  • support the social and emotional development of pupils and report any issues when needed
  • help with extracurricular activities like after-school clubs, homework club, revision sessions or playtime and lunchtime duties.
  • support the teacher in managing challenging pupil behaviour and promoting positive behaviour
  • help individual students with reading and writing so they can keep pace with the rest of the class 
  • monitor and record pupils' progress and provide detailed and regular feedback to teachers
  • carry out administrative duties, such as preparing the classroom and clearing away after class
  • look after pupils who have had accidents by taking them to a school nurse
  • make resources for use by teachers and pupils
  • provide support outside of your regular classes, such as helping during exams, covering TA absences or going on school trips

What is a SEN teaching assistant?

SEN stands for special educational needs and many teaching assistants specialise in the support they can give SEN students, this could be in areas like: 

  • Language - helping students study in a language that is different from their first language. 
  • Behavioural - helping students integrate into the class. A TA's aim might be to improve a child's self-esteem and encourage acceptable behaviour. 
  • Pastoral - linking school and home. TAs specialising in pastoral care are tasked with supporting children and their families through difficult periods. 
  • Special needs support - helping students with learning disorders, developmental disabilities or mental health conditions.

What qualifications do you need to become a teaching assistant? 

You'll need to have literacy and numeracy skills, GCSEs or an equivalent (National 4 or 5 qualifications in Scotland) in Maths or English, and experience working with children. Experience and qualifications in related areas such as childcare, nursery, play or youth work can also be helpful.

Do you need to have a degree to be a teaching assistant?

You don't need a degree, but having one can be an advantage as it helps to show you have the academic competency required. Equally, you can come to the teaching assistant career later on in life, so if you go to university with another career in mind you can still pursue being a teaching assistant later on.

Can you become a teaching assistant through an apprenticeship?

Another way to become a teaching assistant is by taking an intermediate or advanced apprenticeship (Levels 2 and 3); this is where you work in school during your training and are paid a salary.

How do you become a teaching assistant?

Schools tend to set their own entry requirements for jobs, so it's best to check the job advertisement criteria to find out what skills, experiences and teaching assistant qualifications they're looking for.

Do teaching assistants need to have a DBS check?

Every TA will need a DBS check (the Disclosure and Barring Service or in Scotland Disclosure Scotland). These criminal record checks are critical in finding suitable candidates to work with vulnerable groups, including children. Therefore it is the law that you must have a DBS check to work as a teacher with anybody under 18. Getting a DBS certificate is essential if you want to become a teaching assistant. Hence, it is important to start the process early as soon as you get a job. Your employer may pay for it, so it is worth enquiring about this.

What makes a good teaching assistant?

  • a positive approach to working with children and the ability to motivate, inspire and build rapport
  • strong regard for pupil safety and well-being
  • respect for diversity, as you'll be working with pupils from a range of backgrounds
  • communication and interpersonal skills to build relationships with students, parents and teachers 
  • reading, writing and numeracy skills
  • ability to work in a team of excellent support staff, from classroom teachers and professionals such as educational psychologists, speech and language therapists, social workers and external agencies
  • creativity, as often TA's will have to find new ways to present the same information
  • patience, as not every student will pick things up at the same rate
  • the ability to improvise and think on your feet, as sometimes lessons don't go to plan and flexibility is key
  • organisational skills
  • a willingness to keep up-to-date with educational policy and training related to your role.

How much do teaching assistants earn?

Some schools pay term-time only wages; however, this can often be spread over the year, so you still receive a salary every month. Your salary will vary depending on your role, responsibilities and where you work (geographically and the type of institution you work for).

How to gain teaching work experience? 

Teaching assistant posts are highly competitive, so it's important to have some relevant work experience. Why not make a heads start with our teaching virtual work experience? You'll cover topics like lesson delivery, safeguarding, and grading and attainment - all essential lessons for any teacher to master!

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