Being a teaching assistant is challenging, but the upsides are variety, family-friendly hours and enabling those eureka moments, when a child suddenly gets it. Here is the lowdown on how to get a job as a teaching assistant.
There is no set path to becoming a teaching assistant. How teaching assistants are recruited and exactly how they are deployed in the classroom is very much down to individual employers, and these might be nurseries, primary schools, secondary schools, colleges or special schools.
So, let's start by taking a look at how to find teaching assistant jobs...
Many teaching assistant roles are not widely advertised, as they are easily filled from within the school community. This means that one of the answers to how to get a job as a teaching assistant is to start out by volunteering at the school. You can then make teachers and school leaders aware that you’re interested in becoming a teaching assistant, and then they’ve got you in mind if any opportunities come up. Equally, many teaching assistants start out in support roles such as after-school club helper or meal-time assistant, and slide into the teaching assistant role when the school quickly needs someone to step in.
Lots of teaching assistant jobs are advertised online, try googling ‘teacher assistant jobs’ to find openings local to you, and check the websites of local councils and local schools. Or just give them a call to see if anything is available. Be ready to provide a CV that points to the qualities and skills that you’d bring to the teaching assistant role, such as empathy, good interpersonal skills, good organisation skills, creativity, patience, and a love of working with children. Highlight your relevant experience, this could be from a job, or volunteering with any child or youth orientated organisation, or what you’ve learnt from your own children. Check the grammar and spelling in the CV are spot on, as schools are super-hot on literacy.
You don’t need qualifications to become a teaching assistant. This said many schools will require anyone wanting to be a teaching assistant to do literacy and maths tests, or at least will check on your GCSE English and Maths grades. An enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check, which is a check for criminal convictions, is essential for this role.
It is a big plus to have a relevant qualification, such as a level 2 or 3 NVQ in an education related subject. Many teaching assistants opt to do a qualification to enrich their understanding of child development and ways of learning. They choose part-time courses, such as FdA Learning and Teaching, which can be studied alongside working as a teaching assistant.
If you don’t have relevant qualifications then there are short courses you can do to boost your employability as a teaching assistant, for example courses in child first aid and safeguarding, which can usually be found for free either locally or online.
To get a teaching assistant role you’ll need to demonstrate your passion for working with children, for example by talking about your motivations for wanting to help children to develop and by providing relevant examples from your experience to date. You’ll typically be interviewed for a teaching assistant role by the Headteacher plus one or two others, usually a Governor, Lead Teaching Assistant or Teacher.
Here are some questions which are likely to be asked at teaching assistant interviews. Read them, make notes, and practice saying your answers out loud, so they flow on the day.
Seven interview questions for teaching assistant jobs:
To help you answer these questions we’re about to take a closer look at the role of the teaching assistant, but first we’ll cover a few more things to get you ready for the interview.
You'll likely be asked scenario-based questions that explore how you would react in situations that arise in the classroom, for example:
If you are asked to give an example of how you managed a situation in your past experience, you can use the Situation, Action, Result (SAR) technique to help you form coherent and comprehensive answers to scenario-based questions. It works like this:
You may also be asked to lead an activity with some children. If you’re asked to prepare an activity, then check the age group so you can be sure that it’s age appropriate. It’s a great idea to ask what topics the children are already working on and align the activity to that.
Marie Bradwell, a former Teaching Assistant, and now Education Lecturer and Researcher at Plymouth Marjon University adds: “The other thing to do is to read through the curriculum, which not everybody enjoys doing, but you might get asked about it. Not everyone is confident in English and Maths up to Key Stage 2, so having that understanding increases your chances of getting a teaching assistant job.”
Remember, whatever happens, to stay calm and focused. The reality of this role is that you’ll be juggling priorities, and that’s before the teacher throws you an urgent task or a child becomes disruptive in the classroom. You’ve got to demonstrate at interview that you can keep your cool because a teaching assistant needs to be ready for pretty much anything!
A teaching assistant is there to support pupils in their educational development, and equally with their emotional and social needs. They encourage and motivate pupils and provide extra support where needed. They also provide crucial support to the teacher, freeing them to focus on other tasks by taking on things like preparing activities, photocopying, marking, and stepping in when a child becomes disruptive so that the teacher can continue to teach.
There are two main types of teaching assistant roles. The first is being a general support to the teacher, doing tasks that free up their time for teaching, such as setting up resources and giving extra support to those children in the class who need it most. The second type of teaching assistant is tasked to work exclusively to support a pupil, or a group of pupils, who have Education, Health and Care (EHC) plans. These plans outline the support required for children who have specific needs, such as special educational needs or mental health conditions.
In practice the two types of teaching assistant roles aren’t so distinct. Schools have children with undiagnosed needs and general teaching assistants will be there to support them, at least until the child is assessed and specialist support is put in place.
There are two sides to teaching assistant roles – academic and pastoral. On the academic side, you’re there to support the children to learn, for example supporting computer skills, spelling, and phonics (and you can learn your phonics on YouTube). When the teacher leaves the classroom, the teaching assistant is effectively in charge of the class, which takes confidence. A more experienced teaching assistant will sometimes be asked to take the class, usually they’ll be implementing a teacher’s lesson plan but sometimes they’ll plan their own sessions too.
The teacher leads on behaviour management and the teaching assistant takes their lead, escalating behaviour issues to the teacher when required. Invariably the teaching assistant will sometimes have to deal with challenging behaviour. For example, a child may have to be removed from the class and the teaching assistant may be alone with that child until they have calmed down. The teaching assistant needs to be able to safely manage the situation, and ideally the school would provide training on this, known as Passive Intervention and Prevention Strategies (PIPS) training. It helps to ask when you start about the support and training available to teaching assistants, and about behavioural policies.
But the best bit about being a teaching assistant? For many, this is the satisfaction and warmth that comes from their relationships with the children on the pastoral side of the role.
“ In my research I asked all the teaching assistants, how do the children see you? And with all of them, their demeanour changed, they all smiled, they lit up and they all said, “The children love us”. And this is the rewarding side of being a teaching assistant, that relationship you have with the children, they want to spend time with you. And that is the enjoyment of it. You know the impact that you can have on them but also the impact that they have on you. You provide emotional and social security to the children, and while the role is challenging the highs are in the little things you experience every day as you see the children develop. ”
There is undoubtedly a learning curve for the new teaching assistant, so it’s crucial to have conversations with experienced colleagues to help you understand your new role.
Questions for the new teaching assistant to ask and reflect on:
Yes, being a teaching assistant is a brilliant route into teaching. Teaching assistants have a lot of experience in schools; they understand exactly what they are getting into.
“ Being a teaching assistant is a really good way into teaching. It's arguably the best way, because you have maybe a few more years of maturity and life experience to bring to the role. You have experience of schools and realistic understanding of what teaching involves; teaching isn't easy. You're constantly talking about learning, teaching and behaviour, and learning from your colleagues. ”
In terms of getting into teaching, any form of experience with children is helpful. Teaching assistants have a pre-existing network of educators to call on and draw ideas from, which is a powerful aid when training to teach. They have experts to act as sounding boards, coupled with a confidence from their own experience of school life. They get the language; they know the processes. When moving into teaching, a teaching assistant can draw on having seen teachers in action and past discussions with them on how things are done; that really helps when it comes to developing their own teaching style. Chris continues: “Some of our students were advised by colleagues to get into teaching. They start out as teaching assistants and someone says, ‘You’re good at this, why not be a teacher?’ And they think, why not? They are excited to have their own class, open up their career options, and be better paid.”
Being a teaching assistant is a rich and varied role, and you get to help children blossom into the well-rounded individuals they are meant to become. You’ll never forget them; and they’ll never forget you.