A day in the life of a teaching assistant (TA)
Top tips for becoming a teaching assistant, including the dos and don’ts.
Know your role
Your main job role is supporting students who need assistance. This could be underachieving students, students with behavioural issues or pupils with Special Educational Needs. You should be aware of the policies and procedures, including safeguarding, behaviour and personal code of conduct in order to effectively manage your practice. Any teacher will state that the role of a Teaching Assistant (TA) is fundamental for the school and pupils, so if you’re considering taking it up as a career, here’s what a typical day could look like.
Preparation is key
Your day will start well before the children arrive. Before the bustle of the day begins it’s all hands on deck getting ready for the children to land. You might find yourself getting pencil pots ready, heading to the photocopier for those last-minute copies, making sure desks and chairs are in place and preparing morning activities for when the children enter the room. Don’t stroll in after the children arrive or think that your day begins at the same time as theirs!
Meet and greet
As the children arrive it’s the teaching assistant’s job to help them settle in, encouraging them to put their bags away and motivating them to start their morning activities. More often than not the children should have an activity ready as they walk through the door. This helps to capture their attention straight away and to help them focus into learning mode. A positive attitude, enthusiasm and excitement from a teaching assistant usually provides a good kick-start to the day. It’s important to not just stand at the back of the classroom twiddling your thumbs – remember that as a role model, children mimic your behaviour!
Help with learning: the morning session
Throughout lessons, teaching assistants are expected to be hands-on in helping and supporting children throughout their learning. It’s likely that the teacher will have planned activities for you to work on with certain children. For core subjects such as maths and English it’s possible that you will have your own focus group to work with and to provide encouragement where necessary. Core subjects are usually delivered during the morning session and require structure with the full attention of the children. Teaching assistants play a big part in this. Don’t just sit back and wait for a child to come to you, try to move around the tables checking children are on task and that they understand exactly what is expected of them. A child may nod their head and say they know what they are doing but you should be diligent and check their understanding.
When break begins, the children will be eager to get outside. This part of the day usually requires some skill in order to ensure it runs as smoothly as possible. Don’t run off and think this is your break time too! You’ll usually be needed to patrol the corridors and outdoor areas. Use your initiative and look out for children that are flagging behind or looking for someone to start off a game on the playground. As well as the need to run around and let off some steam, children also need to have the correct clothing on and be armed with their mid-morning snack. The age of the child will depend on the level of support you need to offer here. For younger children there will usually be snack monitors to give fruit to them. Older children are usually allowed to bring snacks from home, so your job here is to make sure that their snack is healthy and that they aren’t cramming in a chocolate bar in the hope that you won’t see them – healthy eating is BIG in schools.
After more lessons, it’s lunch time. This can be chaotic if there is no structure. It’s likely that there will be a rota for TAs to take turns on duty; some being outside, some being in the dinner hall and some on their lunch. Unfortunately there is no getting out of at least one lunch time role per week, and for most it will be every day. On the upside you do get a break to eat your lunch. Lunch time is usually divided into two or three sittings, so make sure you know where you should be. Knowing about different dietary requirements, allergies, which children are on packed lunch and which children are on school meals is essential. Do not assume you just ‘know’ – if you’re in any doubt, always check.
Lessons throughout the afternoon tend to take on a more practical or creative approach, such as arts and crafts, topic work, food technology or music. The children need to be supervised closely. Children can get overexcited in the afternoon and they’ll need help staying on task. Cutting, painting and sticking can be some of the messier activities, and if the glitter comes out then try and avoid it ending up all over the carpet. Although the afternoon can take a more relaxed approach, the children still need to be reminded that you are their teacher and not their friend. As the end of the day approaches it’s time to wind down and get the children ready for home time. Ensure you know the adult who is picking up the children in your care and do not dismiss children if at any point you are unsure. The safety of the children in your care is paramount. The key here is to ensure that every student who has needed your support has been given this regardless of who they are or the issues they may have.