What's it really like?
Patricia Whitfield, worked as a classroom assistant for a total of nine years.She worked in a small, local primary school, with a roll of 160 pupils and was responsible for helping out with seven classes. Prior to starting as a classroom assistant, she ran a local playgroup for pre-school children. Patricia decided to become a classroom assistant because it was a more structured career and she felt like making a change in her life. However, she was still keen to adopt a role which fitted in with her own children’s school hours and holidays and being a classroom assistant fitted the bill perfectly.
During a typical working day, Patricia dealt with children between the ages of five and eleven. She usually worked with small groups of children and helped them to perform activities including reading and spelling exercises. She also spent a lot of time working with individual pupils who needed additional help focussing in class or completing their work set by the class teacher. Patricia very much enjoyed her job as a classroom assistant and found it extremely rewarding building up a rapport with individual children. However, she did not appreciate being put on the spot on a daily basis and having to deal with challenging situations. For instance, she was expected to solve problems at the drop of a hat and this was hard to deal with. Sometimes these were of a technical nature such as sorting out a computer problem and other times more creative such as turning the classroom into a jungle! Patricia had some words of wisdom for individuals hoping to become classroom assistants. She would advise would-be applicants of the need to remain flexible at all times and to be comfortable working alongside a teacher and taking instructions from them. Classroom assistants need to remember that it is ultimately the teacher who is in charge of the class. Gaining previous experience is useful in order to boost any application to a school and many local primary schools will provide work experience opportunities, which will allow individuals to gain valuable insight into the role.
With regards to career progression, Patricia believes that working as a classroom assistant opens many doors. Although she never wanted to become a teacher, the role provides invaluable experience for applying to train for such a job. Patricia is currently studying part-time at college and is also working part-time for a data processing company.
Classroom assistants help teachers perform different tasks in the classroom. They aim to work in such a way that allows teachers to focus solely upon teaching the students and setting tasks for them to complete.
Classroom assistants provide support for teachers whilst they perform their daily tasks in the classroom. They are responsible for making the teaching environment ready for teaching prior to the beginning of each lesson and helping the teacher whilst the lesson is in progress. Outside lesson times, classroom assistants perform administrative tasks and make sure that the teacher is satisfied with the teaching environment. Many classroom assistants specialise in a certain area of teaching, such as music or literacy. However, they will be expected to take part in all kinds of lessons throughout a typical working day. Most classroom assistants are employed by primary schools but there may also be opportunities available in secondary schools and other kinds of institution.
After gaining some experience, many classroom assistants choose to become Higher Level Teacher Assistants. These individuals are provided with far more responsibility. They may help to plan lessons and may be able to influence the material taught to the students. Higher Level Teacher Assistants may also be trusted occasionally with adopting the role of teacher. The gender ratio in this job is fairly unbalanced, with many more women than men choosing to apply for the position.
Assuming that they work on a full-time basis, classroom assistants are unlikely to earn more than £16,000 per year and starting salaries are usually between £11,000 and £12,000. Higher Level Teaching Assistants may earn slightly more, with £18,000 not being an unrealistic figure. It is difficult to provide an accurate estimate for classroom assistant salaries since wages are decided by individual Local Education Authorities. Furthermore, many classroom assistants are employed on a part-time basis. For these individuals, salaries will obviously be significantly lower.
ResponsibilitiesThe typical tasks performed by classroom assistants include:
- Preparing the physical environment of the classroom for lessons
- Ensuring that teaching materials are ready for use
- Helping teachers to plan lessons
- Listening to children read out loud
- Teaching children techniques which will help them to improve their reading
- Reading out loud to children
- Helping children who have learning difficulties to complete tasks
- Taking notes for children who have difficulty keeping up with the pace of the class
- Helping children make displays and putting these displays up around the classroom
- Taking charge of group activities and making sure all students are involved
- Taking charge of children who have problems or have had an accident
- Providing general encouragement for all the children in the class
- Taking extra time to explain the teaching material to children who have not understood it the first time
- Helping teachers to assess the work and providing feedback to the children
- Planning sports days and extra-curricular activities
- Taking charge of these activities on the day
- Keeping parents informed of the progress of their children and listening to any queries
- Keeping classroom records and notes about the progress of all the children
Higher Level Teaching Assistants may also perform the following tasks:
- Teaching classes
- Preparing lesson plans
- Advising and providing support for other classroom assistants
- Providing advice to teachers about their specialist subjects
Some classroom assistants gain their positions without any qualifications. However, these individuals will usually have gained a lot of previous experience to compensate for this fact. Most classroom assistants hold relevant qualifications, which will have been gained after teaching in a local school for a few hours per week. Relevant qualifications include an NVQ Level 2 in Supporting Teaching and Learning in Schools. Individuals wishing to become Higher Level Teaching Assistants will need to gain official HLTA status. In order to achieve this status, classroom assistants will need the support of their school and will also need to gain appropriate funding. They will then be able to undergo an assessment process which, if successful, will provide them with HLTA status.
Classroom assistants will need to possess the following skills:
- The ability to motivate and provide encouragement to children of all ages and all backgrounds
- The ability to work well as part of a team
- The ability to use one’s own initiative
- The ability to remain patient and calm under pressure
- A creative mind
- Good numeracy and literacy skills
- Tact and sensitivity
- The ability to discipline children
- A warm and approachable personality
Classroom assistants work in a comfortable classroom environment and are usually able to stick to school hours during the working week although they may occasionally have to work overtime if administrative tasks need to be performed. Classroom assistants may also have to attend training courses from time to time. The job can be stressful, particularly if there is a troublesome child that needs to be dealt with on a daily basis, but most classroom assistants enjoy their jobs very much and find their work rewarding. Individuals should be physically fit, though, since they will be on their feet, moving around the classroom throughout the working day.
Gaining previous experience is very important prior to becoming a classroom assistant. Many schools will provide individuals with work experience and opportunities to help in a classroom environment for one or two days per week. Failing this, any previous experience working with groups of children will boost a CV.
Classroom assistants are employed solely by the following kinds of school:
- Infant Schools
- Junior Schools
- Secondary Schools
- Special Needs Schools
Classroom assistants may choose to switch between different kinds of school. For instance, a classroom assistant in a primary school may decide to make the change to a secondary school and vice versa. After a few years in the role, many classroom assistants decide to apply for HLTA status. It is not uncommon for classroom assistants to apply for teacher training courses after gaining some invaluable experience in the classroom. Alternatively, they may choose to apply for another position within an educational environment. For example, they may decide to become secretaries or receptionists.