Teaching assistants play a vital role in schools all over the country. Not only is a rewarding and flexible role, it is also a great way to experience life in the classroom before deciding to train to be a teacher. To find out what being a teaching assistant is really like, we spoke to three TAs about their experiences.
Meet the teaching assistants
Joe MacDonald, King Edward VI School, Suffolk
I am halfway through my first year as a teaching assistant in a large comprehensive school. Teaching always appealed to me as a career, but before fully committing to it after completing my degree, I thought it best to get some relevant experience.
I have found working closely with challenging pupils mostly positive and gratifying. Every step they take in their education – even something as small as asking a question in class – is an event to be celebrated.
However, being a TA certainly comes with its challenges. Dealing with students’ more extreme behaviour can be testing. You have to hold your patience and keep your nerve. But with most young people you soon start to build positive relationships that allow for a mutual respect.
There are a few things that I would change in my experience in this role. Sometimes more direction from teachers would be nice – a closer working relationship with the person who has planned the lesson.
But being a TA has made me see the difference we can make – ensuring all students are given an equal chance to reach their potential.
Samantha Thompson, Sharps Copse Primary School, Hampshire
I never set out to be a TA and, to be honest, working with children had never appealed to me. My previous job was a cleaner.
My path into it started with being a parent reader and, once in, I was hooked on making a difference to children’s lives. Working in a school is hard, no matter what your role is; every day is different and things rarely go according to plan. If asked what makes my job successful, I would have to say flexibility and being able to embrace change on a daily basis.
Some people believe a TA’s job is easy, just photocopying and tidying up classrooms. If you work in a primary school, then you know that, in reality, we do a lot more.
TAs are responsible for most interventions applied, and play a key role in helping to build resilience and independence in what are sometimes very challenging children. While teaching assistants are busy helping the kids, this enables the overworked and stressed teachers to concentrate on just teaching.
It is definitely not an easy job and the tasks I have to fit in each day seem to get more and more each year, but I am one of the lucky ones. I feel appreciated – my class teacher always thanks me for just doing my job. It is a great feeling when you inspire a child to achieve a piece of writing in literacy or they have a eureka moment in maths.
In a nutshell, I love my job and even on a really stressful day there is always something to make you laugh – and then you know it’s worth it.
Kate Martins, Carwarden House Community School, a special school in Surrey
I became a TA after deciding that I wanted a career change when I became fed up with my regular nine-to-five job. Coming from a corporate background, it has been a huge transition and it is unlike anything that I have experienced before.
Firstly, the salary is terrible. It is also very stressful at times. The behaviour and noise levels, not to mention the horrible circumstances of some of the children in the school, take its toll on you.
Plus, there’s never enough time in the day to do everything, which ends up leaving you feeling stretched thin.
But it is the best job I’ve ever had – and that’s all down to the kids. Every day is different; there is nothing boring about working in a special educational needs school. Helping children become confident young people is a hugely rewarding experience. Seeing them overcome challenges and succeed gives you an immense sense of pride that you wouldn’t find in a normal job.
Thinking of becoming a TA? Check out our teaching assistant job interview advice