Whether you’re new to the role or an old hand, being a teaching assistant (TA) is an ever-evolving job. Building effective relationships with the children and adults you work with is essential, but how can these be nurtured so that teaching and learning happens to the highest standard possible? These ideas may help:
If you are new to the role, you should be given induction into the school generally, and the post specifically. Make sure that your role is crystal clear, so ask all the questions you need to at this stage. Aim to memorise names!
It may sound obvious, but the importance of effective working relationships, not just with the pupils you work with but also all the adults including the parents, are of paramount importance. Work at building rapport every day. Relationships can be central to transforming behaviour and habits of learning.
You are part of a team, primarily with the teachers you work with, the children and their parents. There’s also the wider team of other TAs in the school. Time may not always allow it, but working closely with these people, wherever possible, may help you to be more effective. Catching up with other TAs and ring-fencing time to speak/feed back to the class teacher you are working with can contribute positively. In schools that maximise the use of TAs, there is a strong sense of collaboration and a valuing of the unique role of the TA.
If you get the chance, link up with TAs in other schools, perhaps through social media such as twitter. Your school may have membership of NASEN (National Association of Special Educational Needs – www.nasen.org.uk), which can be immensely helpful for continuing professional development, so it’s worth finding out.
Knowing the answer to some key questions will ensure that you have the greatest impact possible: What, specifically, are you employed to do? Who, specifically, are you employed to work with? Are there any Education, Health and Care Plans that you need to be aware of? Does the Special Educational Needs Coordinator have any further information for you that will help you to support specific children? What information is available to you? What sources of further information are available to you? What continuing professional and personal development will you have the chance to take part in?
Be a team
The teachers you work with will need you to be a watertight team and their requirements may change from day to day depending on the tasks ahead. Between you, you will need excellent communication and the opportunity to feedback at the end of your day. If these issues haven’t been discussed, it’s worth raising them.
Be confident with strategies
Make sure that you are confident in the strategies and interventions you have for developing learning in the classroom. Teaching assistants with impact: a toolkit published by Optimus Education is a great place to start for guidance on this. If you are supporting a particular child you should be told the precise strategies that can help that child to maximise learning. If you want to find out more, sites such as specialneedsjungle.com can help.
You will need to know the school’s behaviour policy and any expectations of you when it comes to implementing it. Your calm serenity will be much appreciated in the classroom!
Your role is nothing if not varied. Be ready for anything and prepared to join in!
Enjoy your work
Aim to enjoy working with the children and young people in your care. If you don’t, it may be the school that doesn’t suit you, rather than the role.
About the author
After graduating with a degree in Politics and International Relations from the University of Reading, Elizabeth Holmes completed her PGCE at the Institute of Education, University of London. She then taught humanities and social sciences in schools in London, Oxfordshire and West Sussex, where she ran the history department in a challenging comprehensive. Elizabeth specialises in education but also writes on many other issues and themes. As well as her regular blogs for eTeach and FEjobs, her books have been published by a variety of publishers and translated around the world.