Punam Sharma is a year 6 teaching assistant at Thornbury Primary Leadership Academy in Bradford. In 2019, she won a Primary Teaching Assistant of the Year Award, in recognition of her contribution to children’s education and support. She offers those new to the profession some key advice to help set them up for a successful career.
- Be punctual. Being on time sets your students an example, reinforcing the message that it’s important to show people respect by not keeping them waiting. This will help children to establish a lifelong habit of being punctual.
- Be a team worker. Being a teaching assistant involves working alongside and supporting your colleagues, so it’s important to have a cooperative approach. Working with others effectively helps build strong relationships, which will benefit your students in the long run.
- Respect everyone’s view point. Let your colleagues and students have their say and show them that you respect their opinion by listening to them, even if you don’t agree. But don’t be afraid to argue your own case too.
- Be flexible and adaptable. Sometimes things change at short notice, so you’ll need to be ready for any eventuality. Covid-19 has often meant there have been unexpected staff absences so you might, for example, have to take on a different role, such as cover supervisor, if someone else is not available.
- Provide effective feedback to the class teacher and to children. Feedback is an important part of any teaching assistant’s role. It gives teachers the information they need to make informed decisions about how to help their students perform better, and helps children understand what steps they need to take to improve.
- Make sure you have a good knowledge of teaching skills. Teaching assistants can be responsible for leading small group lessons and grading coursework, as well as establishing school projects and helping to supervise students. That’s why it’s useful to have some basic teaching skills.
- Hone your planning and organising skills. You may have to prepare and put into practice a lesson plan, and you’ll have to make sure that the classroom is tidy and organised.
- Take every opportunity you get to gain more knowledge. Going on career development courses keeps your skills fresh and knowledge up to date, which means your contributions in the classroom will be of a high standard, reflecting the latest practice.
- Always be ready to help. Being on hand to help your colleagues and students when they need it is all part of a teaching assistant’s job.
- Try to make sure you have a good understanding of children’s needs. Teaching assistants’ main role is to provide children with vital individual support – everything from helping them to manage their own learning and develop independent study skills, to looking after their pastoral needs. So it goes without saying that you need to understand what makes children tick and what their well-being needs are.
And whatever you do, keep smiling in every situation!