A Teaching Assistant Job Description
An Introduction to Learning Support
As I've detailed in other articles, there are several different roles available in learning support and I've been fortunate enough to work in a few of them. In this article, I'm going to divide the job specification into 6 separate parts to reflect the 6 different roles I've had and to provide an in-depth summary of the differing duties I've undertaken with each role.
Teaching Is Empowering the Minds of Tomorrow
Learning Support Assistant
My very first job in education was as a Learning Support Assistant in a secondary school and it was both challenging and rewarding. I worked with students aged between 11 and 18 and had to support them across a wide variety of curriculum based subjects. During Period 1 I could be supporting a child with dyslexia in a French lesson before then assisting a child with autism during a history lesson in Period 2. The role was completely diverse and every single day was more exciting and challenging than the last.
When I say I supported a child, I refer to completing different tasks designed to help that student access the work. Often I would break the work down into smaller, more manageable tasks on a whiteboard, help with practical assistance during lab experiments or simply just provide constant encouragement and reassurance to the student I was working with.
Aside from supporting students with during lesson time, I also ran a social skills group in the morning, a playgroup for less sociable children at lunch time and a homework club after school for children who didn't have the equipment they needed at home. My homework club often finished at 4 o'clock, which is when I'd either help out with a sports based club or finish my paperwork. Paperwork included writing reports about the children's progress in lesson time, behavior based reports and individual education plans (IEPs.) IEPs often took hours to write as many children who require learning support have a lot of different intervention strategies to utilise and each must be highlighted.
Of course, this is my daily routine but there were also situations where I had to work later than usual. If I had to attend a meeting with parents, contact social services or simply converse with another organisation, I could often be at work until 6 or 7 o'clock. I also volunteered with the Duke of Edinburgh scheme to support the students, which required me to attend a weekly meeting between 7 o'clock and 8 o'clock as well as attend weekend residential trips throughout the year.
This may seem like an extremely busy job and that's because it was, but it was also ana amazing experience and incredibly worthwhile. Aside from the satisfaction of watching the students develop into fantastic people, it's hard not to feel happy when a child thanks you for making a difference to their life.
A School is a Center For Learning
1-to-1 Teaching Assistant
After working in a high school, I decided to try to further my career by gaining experience in a primary school. I applied for a job working 1-to-1 with a student who had extreme behavioral problems and was fortunate enough to secure the role.
My role in this school was significantly different to my role in the last school, where I was working with multiple children with learning difficulties. The boy I worked with was a 10-year old child who completely understood the work but had an issue controlling his anger. My daily routine at this school was also widely different. In the morning, I ran a computer club for the children who arrived at school early, then I would support the child in his morning lessons but would also have to stay with him during his break time. At lunch time, he and I had to stay in a separate area of the playground and complete different activities (which I had to plan) together. Following this, I'd support him during his afternoon lessons and then attend any after school club he was a member of - the nights that he didn't attend I had to run clubs of my own.
The main difference in this job was that I was always with the same child and if he was misbehaving I had to remove him from the lesson and teach him myself. This was a common occurrence and I found myself teaching him 1-to-1 on an almost daily basis. During this time, the boy was often angry (which is why he'd been removed) and would be extremely verbally abusive and disrespectful towards me, but I constantly remained professional and taught him as best I could.
When considering a teaching assistant job description, I don't think many people think about the personal qualities required in a situation similar to the one I've described. It took a lot of patience and empathy to work with a child who had such aggressive tendencies and anger management issues and I often found myself working on his emotional state rather than any academic subject.
Teaching Assistant Job Description
To become a successful member of learning support, you'll need the following personal qualities:
These qualities are imperative to helping a child enjoy school and reach their potential.
Special Needs Support
I eventually secured a role as a Special Needs Support Worker supporting children with severe learning difficulties. I worked in a specialised autism unit attached to a mainstream secondary school and my job was to support a small group of autistic children throughout their day. I helped to assist them in lessons - both academic and creative - and became a constant source of reassurance for the children.
Aside from the academic support, I also accompanied the children on regular trips to the local shop where they could learn to handle money, interact with people and begin to understand societal norms. It was arguably the most rewarding job of my career and I often look back fondly on my time in the role.
Outside of education, I began to coach a young man who has Down Syndrome in Tae Kwon Do. I found it a wonderful experience and was constantly challenging him to achieve more than he already had whilst also remaining patient and demonstrating great understanding of his different needs.
Whenever people ask about my job, they're always surprised to learn that (in any role I've had) I've got such a diverse range of duties, so it's important to be flexible when working in learning support because the children are unpredictable.
"Every member of school staff - no matter their role - is a teacher."— Norman Barton
Where Would You Work?
Would you prefer to work in a secondary school or a primary school?
In-Class Teaching Assistant Job Description
The most common role a teaching assistant will acquire in a primary school is working as an in-class teaching assistant. The job specification is completely different to any other job in learning support as you have to assist both the entire class and the class teacher. When I worked as an in-class teaching assistant my role consisted of two major areas; supporting the low-ability children and pushing the high-ability children.
To support the children with low ability I had to break down lessons for them into manageable tasks but also model work for them and often use an array of multi-sensory equipment to help them access the work. I found the biggest challenge to be ensuring the low-ability children maintained a high level of self-esteem as they often became disheartened when they struggled. To do this, I'd set work for them which was achievable whilst challenging and also ran several social skills intervention groups throughout the day.
Alternatively, to push the high-ability children to make more progress I'd often have to teach them how to complete a more advanced version of the work the class teacher was showing the rest of the class. I also had to often think of extension activities to enhance their learning whenever they'd finished the original task I'd set. This was particularly challenging because I always had to be one step ahead of the children and constantly thinking of the next task.
If I wasn't supporting the class, I was often covering an entire class because the teacher was absent. Although the planning was already in place, I had to deliver the lesson and then mark the work the children had done, whilst also maintaining exceptional behavior management throughout the lesson. At lunch time and after school I regularly ran sports-based extra-curricular activities which occasionally required me to travel to other schools for competitions. I also regularly stayed at work late to participate in meetings with parents or staff to discuss how to improve the school and assist the children in the best possible way.
I think a key part of any teaching assistant job description should be that you're going to have to work a lot of hours unpaid, but it is worth it to make the difference in a child's life.
Outstanding Tips to become an Outstanding TA
HLTA Specialist in Computing
The job description for my current role is extremely unique, not just among the other jobs I've held in my career but also in the education industry itself.
I currently work as a Level 4 teaching assistant with a special focus on teaching ICT. As part of my role, I use computer software to provide academic support in the morning by teaching an alternative version of literacy and numeracy to low-ability children. I have to understand and manage several virtual learning environments and ensure the children are using the software which is most suited to them.
In the afternoon, I deliver the ICT curriculum to a different class every day. I teach a full class without the support of another teaching assistant and I have to complete all the planning, making and assessing myself; furthermore, I also have my own classroom and I am responsible for completing and updating 8 display boards. I also run an ICT club at lunch time and after school. All paperwork and progress data is managed by myself and I regularly have to attend meetings about maintaining a high standard of ICT teaching in my school. My job is extremely tiring and my schedule is hectic, but I love the role and enjoy teaching the full classes every day.
Whilst not many teaching assistant job descriptions mention it, a lot of support staff are tasked with covering classes if a teacher is absent. This is an important part of the role and you have to be prepared to step in whenever you're asked.
Special Educational Needs
As an experienced member of learning support, I think it's important to highlight how many different types of special educational need you're likely to work with. It's important to understand how diverse each need is and ensure you're knowledgeable about how to support a child with that need so that you can perform to the best of your abilities.
Thus far, in my career I've helped children with the following special educational needs:
- Autism or Aspergers
- Meares-Irlen Syndrome (A visual impairment)
- Oppositional Defiance Disorder
- Attention Deficit Disorder
- Ceberal Palsly
- Hearing Impairment
Aside from the aforementioned learning difficulties, I've also worked with children from completely different backgrounds which varying emotional difficulties. I've always worked as hard as I could to ensure I could provide the best possible support for every child as they are ultimately the most important part of the job.
Nothing is Impossible
Hopefully this article has allowed you to develop an idea of what an authentic teaching assistant job description might look like. The academic support and extra-curricular activities are such a minor part of the role and it's the emotional support that is more valuable than anything else when working in learning support. You must constantly strive to be a great role model and always be ready to step outside of your comfort zone when a child requires your help. However, it's also the most rewarding job I can image because the children genuinely appreciate the effort you put in to help them and it's always amazing to see them reach their potential.