In general, teaching assistants or TAs are people who do the organizational part of teacher’s work. They are support staff, who can afford to concentrate on individual students and their problems, while a teacher operates the entire class. This kind of support is often provided by parents who want to spend more time with their kids. It is also facilitated by the fact that school TAs are often not required to pass any entry-level exams (in the UK) or required only a high-school diploma (in the US). Consequently, most of the training is conducted on the job.
As a rule, TAs are responsible for the following activities:
- Getting the classroom ready for the lesson and cleaning it after the lesson
- Reading activities: reading aloud to students and listening to them reading
- Helping teacher to control students’ behavior
- Individual work with students who have problems with certain subjects
- Work with special students
- Help during field trips and sports events
- Organizational tasks
- Help with planning and record-keeping
In some cases, TAs are required to speak a foreign language in order to work with non-English speaking students. They might also be assigned a specialization, such as reading or literacy.
TAs usually work full time and even long hours in case of outdoor events or trips. However, flexible schedule is also available. Teacher assistants are required in nurseries, junior schools, special schools and secondary schools.
Requirements set to TAs are defined by schools individually. As a rule, they need some previous experience of working with children. However, this is not mandatory.
Being a TA opens further opportunities such as teaching or being a higher level teaching assistant. As an HLTA a person has further duties such as:
- Teacher’s support
- Preparation of materials and help with planning
- Expert help
- Assessment of progress
- Keeping records
In 2013, a mean TA’s salary reached $24,000 annually in the US and ranged between £12,000 and £17,000 in the UK. In the USA, stricter requirements are set in terms of education and thus TA’s are often required a two-year degree.
The roles of TA’s in different schools also vary. While in primary schools they often work with entire classes, in secondary schools they are more often assigned a certain subject or certain students with difficulties.
In general, a TA’s job is a great start for a long and successful career leap. If you are not sure you want to be a teacher, this is a perfect opportunity to try. If you like the job, you can develop from the entry level and ultimately become a teacher yourself. Otherwise, no one prevents you from quitting and trying something else.