What is a Teaching Assistant?
A teaching assistant is responsible for supporting pupils with special educational needs in the classroom. The main duties include working alongside classroom teachers to plan and implement lessons, providing one-on-one support to pupils, and helping to create a positive learning environment. This may be in a mainstream school, a special school, or an alternative provision. The are a number of common qualities of a teaching assistant that schools will be looking for.
The job offers a chance to make a real difference in the lives of pupils with special needs, as well as an opportunity to develop your skills and gain valuable experience in the field of special education. Successful candidates will be able to prove at interview that they are passionate about helping others and committed to providing the best possible support to pupils with special needs.
This post focusses on a key question I must have asked in hundreds of interviews. Check out this post for 9 more Teaching Assistant Interview questions and answers.
Qualities of a Teaching Assistant.
There are several important personal and professional qualities that a teaching assistant should possess. The list below consists of the key strengths a teaching assistant needs:
- Strong communication skills: A teaching assistant should be able to effectively communicate with students, teachers, and parents. This includes being able to clearly explain concepts, provide feedback, and listen actively.
- Patience: Teaching can be a challenging and rewarding job, but it can also be stressful at times. A good teaching assistant should be patient and able to handle difficult situations with professionalism.
- Adaptability: A teaching assistant may be asked to work with a variety of students with different learning and interaction preferences. It is important for a teaching assistant to be able to adapt to these different situations and find ways to support all students.
- Organisation and time management skills: A teaching assistant will often have a lot of responsibilities throughout the day. It is important for a teaching assistant to be organised and able to manage their time effectively to ensure that all tasks are completed efficiently.
- Empathy and understanding: A teaching assistant should be able to understand and relate to the students they are working with. This includes being able to recognise when a student is struggling, academically or emotionally, and finding ways to support their learning. To take this further I would add compassion.
- A passion for teaching: a teaching assistant should be passionate about education and helping students succeed. This passion can help motivate and inspire students, as well as make the job more enjoyable for the teaching assistant.
- Working as a team: Finally but especially important when working in a special school where you may be part of a team of 4 or more adults.
A Model Answer: “What are the most important qualities of a teaching assistant?”
“As a Teaching Assistant, I am experienced in ensuring that the classroom is ready for lessons. It is kept clean and safe at all times. I assist the teacher in preparing lesson materials and school equipment, and I am responsible for recording and reporting a pupil’s progress to the teacher. I help pupils stay focused during class hours, by providing guidance and support as necessary. I am also comfortable with supervising group activities, sports events, and school outings. I have experience in helping teachers manage student behaviour and I am able to provide a positive and safe learning environment for the children. Additionally, I am able to take care of children who are unwell or upset, and make sure that they are comfortable and regulated.”
Remember that the interviewer will use this answer to question you further. They will ask for examples from your experience. They want to see and hear your passion for the role.
Research Into the Qualities of Teaching Assistants
There is very limited research on the characteristics of teaching assistants. Most focusses on the impact of teaching assistants and specific interventions. Individual teachers will have other qualities they value in their support team. If you have worked with one who commented on you especially mention it. For me one not mentioned would be Creativity. It is so important when working with children with SEN that at least one member of the team has a creative mind, able to do things a bit differently, push me to think more in depth about what activities I am designing for the pupils.
We can extract elements of best practice from other studies. For example Radford (2015) talks about how important using the right kind of prompt is for using higher level questioning less effective TA’s would correct the pupil by giving them the answer. Whereas effective TA’s would use questioning to clarify and support the pupil to learn to the right answer.
To conclude, your answer should be honest, reflect the values of the school, and show insight into the role.
Radford, Julie, et al. “Scaffolding learning for independence: Clarifying teacher and teaching assistant roles for children with special educational needs.” Learning and Instruction 36 (2015): 1-10.
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