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When I made the decision to move to London and work as a Teacher Assistant for Classroom, one of the first things I did was scour the Classroom Canada blog for information about the roles and duties expected of a Teacher Assistant. There are no Teacher Assistants in Canada – at least not from my neck of the woods – so I really had no reference for what life would hold for me working as a TA in London. As I found out, Teacher Assistants are invaluable in primary schools and are a key component of the staff team. Their roles and duties can cover a lot of ground.
You will find a greater demand for work as a TA in primary schools than you will in secondary schools. This will vary from school to school, depending on needs and funds, but most secondary schools employ a small number of TAs and they are usually responsible for attending to students with special learning needs. Primary schools, on the other hand, hire a lot more TAs. There are several reasons for this. In EYFS classes there are always a couple of TAs in the classroom and you can probably guess why: With little ones running around it helps to have more eyes and ears supervising. Nursery and Reception lessons are brief, and a lot of the learning that is done is play-based and on some kind of rotation of indoor activities and outdoor activities.
Key Stage 1 covers Years 1 and 2 and these younger years also tend to have one or two TAs in a classroom - once again depending on the school funds and if there is a need. You will undoubtedly find a TA in a classroom where there is one or more students with special educational needs. I have even been to some schools where both Year 1 classes had 3 TAs and a teacher – classroom management was a dream! I have found that the older grades, Key Stage 2, have less need for multiple TAs. There may be one TA in the classroom who attends to one student or a couple of students with special educational needs, or occasionally there may be two TAs working in a few classrooms with students on a rotational basis. Schools with integrated SEN students work towards having these students become independent, self-sufficient and better integrated into classroom lessons and activities, so this accounts for the lessening reliance on TAs as these students age and progress.
I was told during my Classroom interview that TAs can be responsible for an array of tasks, but that mainly their responsibility is to help classroom teachers with whatever they need. However simple this explanation may sound, it is true. It may be things such as making copies of worksheets, sharpening pencils and putting chairs up at the end of the day or it can be reading a story aloud to a nursery class, covering part of a lesson for a teacher or helping a teacher gather and prepare supplies for the next day’s lessons. The job really can cover anything under the moon and it will differ with every age group. You are, most importantly, an extra set of eyes and ears in the classroom. Your presence can reinforce class discipline and you provide more attention to the students’ needs.
To give you a better idea of a TA’s different responsibilities, here are some other tasks you might find yourself doing if you are working with the younger years:
- Marking homework
- Conducting phonics lessons
- Classroom supervision
- Playground duties
- Working with small groups
- Working one-to-one with students with special educational needs
- Responsible for putting up/taking down classroom displays, including students' work
- Filing, organizing students’ work
- Disciplining students when necessary
- Intervening between and solving student conflicts
- Helping students during experiments, crafts, hands-on activities
- Lunchtime supervision
- Praising and encouraging students
All of this drives home the point that TAs are an integral part of teaching staff in London schools. Many teachers will attest that they need their TAs and don’t know what they would do without them. I think one of the most important roles of a TA is that they can help attend to more students. It can be so overwhelming for one teacher to come around and help every single student in the classroom or to work closely with just one child, especially when the rest of the students are constantly raising their hands and requesting help. TAs bridge that gap. We can answer students’ questions, check their work, work with them through any difficulties they're having, all to help free up time so the classroom teacher can do his or her job.
Nevertheless, the job of a TA is so much more than helping the classroom. TAs are in a position to really connect and influence students through their one-on-one interactions. You will quickly find kids coming to you to tell you things they did that day, whether silly, funny or serious. They will also tell you if they are having any difficulties with anything. They may share fears and insecurities with you, and will really look up to you. You will have opportunities to really teach them, as well as learn so much about the teaching profession yourself.
Working as a TA is a great place to start if you are trying to figure out if you want to be a teacher. You will work closely with the students and develop classroom management skills that are instrumental to a teaching career and you will have an in-depth view of what a teacher does. Or even if you aren’t really keen to become a teacher or are fresh out of university and unsure of your career options, working as a TA in London is a great opportunity to earn a bit of money and live in one of the greatest cities in the world, while you do figure out what you want to do. My advice to any new graduates in Canada thinking of coming over to London as a TA would be to seize the opportunity.