Teaching assistant
Jump to main content
Search
shortlist register contact us menu
How To Become a Teaching Assistant with No Experience: Your Practical Guide

How To Become a Teaching Assistant with No Experience: Your Practical Guide

Date posted : 02 December 2021

There are few roles in education more important than that of a classroom teaching assistant. During the winter lockdowns of 2020/21, research found that teaching assistants played a heroic role in keeping schools open for vulnerable and key worker children. Hardly surprising then that more people want to become teaching assistants, with their number rising year-on-year. Indeed, one of the most common questions our educational recruitment specialists hear is: ‘how can I become a teaching assistant, even if I have no experience or teaching qualifications?’.

What qualifications do I need to become a teaching assistant

Technically, the only qualifications you need to become a teaching assistant are GCSEs in Maths and English. There are many courses on offer for those looking to become teaching assistants, but they should not be seen as a prerequisite to entry. Schools know that their classrooms will benefit from motivated and compassionate presences, so good TAs will always be in demand.  

Who becomes a teaching assistant?

We wanted to get the first-hand perspective on the reality of people’s journeys to become teaching assistants and what the job means to them when they get there. So we sat down with a real life teaching assistant who had made his way into the role despite having no prior experience in education.   

Rohnan Whitebeam works at Woodlands High School, a special school in Cardiff, having been placed there by Teaching Personnel at the beginning of the current academic year. He told us the story of his own experiences finding a way into world of education, what he loves about his job and how he hopes his career will progress. His refreshingly candid account of life as a teaching assistant should answer all the most common questions people have about this exceptionally rewarding walk of life.  

What motivates people to become teaching assistants?

Like many teaching assistants, it took Rohnan some time - and a global pandemic - to realise that education was the right path for him. “I was working as a chef for a couple of years, and then lockdown happened, as it did for all of us, and I had a lot of time alone at home to reassess my skills, read some books and do a bit of soulsearching”, he explains.  

Family can be a strong motivating force in anyone’s professional life. For Rohnan, his mum’s work as an art therapist working with people with learning difficulties was a “big inspiration” in his decision to go into education.  

A devotion to knowledge clearly runs in the family. “I’ve just always enjoyed learning. I love to read, I love learning about things, I love history, I love music, I just find it all fascinating, and I think helping people learn how to learn is really essential”, Rohnan muses.  

That passion for learning and helping others to learn is a crucial trait for any teaching assistant. A TA’s role in the classroom will often involve helping individual pupils who have fallen behind feel more comfortable with the curriculum. As Rohnan says, “many of us struggle” to understand things that others can find straightforward, even well into adulthood.  

An aspiring teaching assistant doesn’t need a packed CV. The most important things to bring to the table are empathy, patience and a raw enthusiasm for learning.  

How long does it take to become a teaching assistant?

If you’re chomping at the bit to get started in your new career as a teaching assistant, you will be pleased to hear that it only took Rohnan around five months to find a permanent placement at a local school. “It’s been fairly fast which I’m really chuffed with”, he told us.  

Before landing in his role at Woodlands, Rohnan spent some time working in various schools in a supply capacity with Teaching Personnel. This experience gave him a panoramic perspective on the many varying needs of schools. “It meant could see a few different schools, and a few different environments; I could sample a bit of primary, a bit of secondary, a bit of mainstream [schooling] and a bit of SEN”, he reels off. “It’s been good to get that wide range. But it’s also been lovely to join a class on a permanent basis and get to know people day in, day out, and understand their needs and adjust my role to suit them and help them the best way I can."

Why experience and qualifications aren't everything

Rohnan's spirit of adaptability is indispensable in a fast-moving classroom. Any class of 30 children is a tapestry of different learning styles, abilities and needs. Schools need their teaching assistants to be able to cater for all these requirements over the course of an average day.   

As Rohnan found out in his interview for his position at Woodlands, schools can be more concerned with a teaching assistant’s ability to be flexible and openminded than with a jam-packed resumé. “You should always be learning on the job and that was something that was brought up in my main interview, when they asked me how comfortable I was with ongoing learning, which is a massive part of the [education] ethos in Wales”, he recounts.  

If you’re considering embarking on a career in education but lack prior experience or qualifications in the sector, think about what other transferable skills you can offer and weave them prominently into every job application you make.  

What is the role of a teaching assistant in the classroom?

Nobody could accuse teaching assistants of being lazy. When we asked schools to nominate their favourite TAs for National Teaching Assistants’ Daywe received countless tales of dedicated classroom stalwarts who would always ‘go the extra mile’ and put in precious hours of their own time to help their pupils thrive at school. But what does an average day hold for a teaching assistant?  

For Rohnan, a normal class will involve working with small groups or in one-to-one sessions with individual pupils. However, that’s where any expectation of a ‘normal’ routine ends. “I think in the teaching assistant role you have to be very adaptable and understanding as, depending on the class, there can be several different needs”, Rohnan says.  

As an example, he tells us about a boy in his class who “struggles with a speech impediment and visual issues, meaning he struggles with English, so when we’re working I’ll draw little pictures next to the words to help him out a bit. But then working with another pupil, they might enjoy chatting about things more than [exploring] the visual aspect.”  

Rohnan is keen to impress upon us that this versatility is something that’s learned over time. “You work these things out, and it doesn’t happen in a day – it’s a process that takes weeks or months, but it’s an ongoing process where you get better. When you see the improvements and the knowledge that’s been gained and the confidence that’s built up, that’s a really inspiring thing." 

Teaching assistants also play a critical role in managing pupils’ behaviour and making sure that classrooms are conducive environments for learning. TAs work with individual children more closely than a classroom teacher will typically be able to. The strong positive relationships of trust and confidence they can form with pupils can make a real difference in encouraging good conduct.  

When you see the improvements and the knowledge that's been gained and the confidence that's built up, that's a really inspiring thing

Rohnan Whitebeam, Teaching Assistant, Woodlands High School, Cardiff

Register to work as a teaching assistant

How teaching assistants complement teachers

As the number of teaching assistants in UK schools has grown, so has the importance of strong relationships between TAs and class teachers. A successful synergy will make for better lessons and faster progress through the curriculum.  

Rohnan speaks glowingly about his working relationships at Woodlands. “The teacher I work with also used to be a teaching assistant at the school before he did his PGCE and became a teacher. So I find that quite humorous; I’ve almost become the young version of him really, as I’m about to start my PGCSE in the next academic year and study while I work here”, he says, chuckling to himself.  

Teachers can often become unofficial mentors for their TAs, acting as fonts of advice, feedback and reassurance. For Rohnan, the class teacher has been a crucial pillar of support. “He has given me lots of really good tips. It’s really good to watch how he works and how he approaches things. He’s really inspired me.”  

To work well, the two roles need to be clearly differentiated. Teachers need to be able to lead the classroom, while a teaching assistant should be given enough space to build on the relationships they’ve formed with pupils through their small-group sessions. This all balances on a golden thread of strong communication and collaboration. 

Rohnan is full of praise for the dynamic in his own classroom. “While [the teacher] is in charge, it’s a team-based approach. Along with our other TA, we’ll talk after school and discuss different approaches: what went well and what went badly. It’s really good having that open communication and that dialogue in order to get better individually and as a team."

Even the most indomitable of team spirits will sometimes come under strain. But making a consistent effort to maintain fruitful working relationships, even when times get tough, will give children a visible, daily model of positive co-operation that will bolster their own resilience.  

How teaching assistants are repairing lockdown learning loss  

Speaking of adversity, teaching assistants deserve all the praise in the world for keeping classrooms functioning during consecutive lockdowns. But the hard work doesn’t stop there.  

School closures have had a drastic effect on many pupils’ educations. Research from the Sutton Trust shows that the vast majority of teachers expect pre-existing attainment gaps to be exacerbated. Schools are waging a major campaign to address learning loss, with teaching assistants working on the front lines.  

Rohnan is frank about the damage done to some of his pupils’ progress over the last two years. “You start to see patterns. You can see the gaps in their knowledge, and you can see the issues not just with cognition or what they’ve learned, but also with people’s social aspects; not being able to see your friends for so long, not being allowed to hang out and play."

Recognising that the pandemic has impacted these children at a core developmental level, Rohnan is embracing some new and more holistic approaches in his work as a teaching assistant. “I’m glad to be living, studying and working in Wales as there are big changes coming into the system. We’ll be doing stuff like positive behaviour support, and a lot of that focuses on, over a long period of time, adapting to and understanding behaviour better so you can cater to the needs of different students."  

Rohnan is prioritising building back pupils’ interpersonal skills through participatory activities. “I’ll incorporate aspects of sociability into many classes, but on a personal level as well, we’ll talk and get involved in discussions”.  

He is even unafraid to sacrifice a bit of composure in the service of getting his pupils back on track. “[Sometimes] there’s a group activity, like we did yoga yesterday for PE, for example, and I was participating along. The kids had a laugh when I did the move where you bring your leg up. I nearly fell over, and they had a good chuckle."  

To find the confidence to repair their social skills, Rohnan believes that the children need their immediate classroom role models to play along. “I like to play football with [the children] at lunchtimes, and you can definitely tell that when the TAs get involved and participate with them, they have a much more fun time, and they behave better. You’re not just a TA then; you’re another person joining in and having fun with them."  

Teaching assistants across the country are powering the great national catch up after coronavirus, whether through providing everyday support in classrooms or through their work in delivering the National Tutoring Programme.  

A bridge to teacher training 

Rohnan’s work as a teaching assistant isn’t only about getting his pupils ready for a return to normal patterns of life. It’s also laying the groundwork for his own next steps through the education profession.  

Rohnan will be starting a PGCE teacher training qualification in Cardiff next academic year, while continuing to work as a teaching assistant. He is categorical that his experience as a TA has been the best possible foundation for his upcoming studies.  

“I think I’ve learned more in this year than I have in the past five”, he says with a broad grin. “You’re learning on the job, you also get extra training on the side and there’s a lot of new things coming the Welsh school system that are really promising and interesting."  

Rohnan is unphased by the gloom that has sometimes enveloped the education sector in the wake of Covid. “I’d say it’s a good time to become a teaching assistant and to become a teacher because, like I say, things are changing for the better." All of us at Teaching Personnel would tend to agree!  

If you’re planning to start teacher training, check out our recent article on how to prepare for your PGCE effectively for some useful crib notes.   

How Teaching Personnel can help you become a teaching assistant  

Rohnan is full of praise for the help that Teaching Personnel has offered him throughout the process of becoming a teaching assistant.  

“Everybody I’ve talked to [at Teaching Personnel] has been really positive and really supportive. They’ve always been open to chat and have found me a lot of good, decent work over the months while I was in supply”, he tells us. “My contacts there are also just happy to talk about other topics, and even just ask ‘how was your day? How was school?’ So there’s a human personality there as well, which I think is really important."

We were over the moon to hear Rohnan speak so highly of us. Teaching Personnel’s dedicated educational recruitment consultants help thousands of people become teaching assistants every year, regardless of their previous experience or qualifications. Our consultants build up close bonds with educators, supporting them from the moment they register for work with us.  

We don’t just find excellent working opportunities at our huge network of partner schools. We nurture and develop the talents of all our candidates, whether that’s through giving them access to accredited training through our CPD Academy, supporting their wellbeing or even just getting to know each educator as a real person and not just a face in a classroom.  

If you’re thinking of becoming a teaching assistant, Teaching Personnel will work closely with you to find the right position to start your career. Click the buttons below to find your next job.  

List #1

Related posts

Tackling Absenteeism: Turning the Tide with our Attendance Mentors Programme

Teaser

Educators

Content Type

TP-Posts

Publish date

DD05YY

Summary

Poor attendance has been an issue across the UK since the pandemic. According to recent statistics, pupil absenteeism in England soared to 22% by 2023. This equates to over 125,000 pupils missing

Teaser

Discover how our Attendance Mentors Programme tackles pupil absenteeism in the UK. Learn how tailored support and proven strategies can boost school attendance and academic success.

Read more
Navigating Exam Stress: How to Help Your Learners

Teaser

Tips and Advice

Content Type

TP-Posts

Publish date

DD05YY

Summary

As the academic year peaks, the pressure of exams can overwhelm pupils. Many teachers believe that tests and exams have the biggest impact on students’ mental health. With GCSEs, SATs, and A-Levels

Teaser

Read more
How to Make Teaching an Attractive Career Choice

Teaser

Tips and Advice

Content Type

TP-Posts

Publish date

DD04YY

Summary

The teacher recruitment crisis is a priority for school leaders across the country. In the 2021–22 academic year, 4000 teachers retired, and 9% of the teaching workforce resigned, marking the highes

Teaser

Read more
Your Easter 2024 Payroll

Teaser

Educators

Content Type

TP-Posts

Publish date

DD03YY

Summary

Planning for the Easter break? The Teaching Personnel payroll team wants to make sure you get paid on time. This table outlines the Easter 2024 payroll date, along with the corresponding deadline

Teaser

Read more
Adam Davies

by

Adam Davies

Adam Davies

by

Adam Davies

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Working as a Supply Teacher
Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Working as a Supply Teacher

Teaser

Supply Teaching

Content Type

TP-Posts

Publish date

DD01YY

Summary

Table of Contents 1. Why do people become supply teachers? 2. What does it take to become a supply teacher? 3. How can I find work as a supply teacher? <!-- b--> 4. How shou

Teaser

All your common questions about supply teaching answered

Read more
Alex Schulte

by

Alex Schulte

Alex Schulte

by

Alex Schulte

Navigating the Challenges of SEN Provision: A Call to Action in 2024

Teaser

Educators

Content Type

TP-Posts

Publish date

DD01YY

Summary

Special Educational Needs (SEN) provision in schools is a critical aspect of education that demands attention in 2024. According to the Department for Education, over 1.5 million pupils in England

Teaser

Dive into the critical world of Special Educational Needs (SEN) provision with eye-opening statistics and real challenges faced by schools. Discover the importance of tailored support and the impact on learners.

Read more
Recruitment and Retention for MAT Leaders

Teaser

Multi-Academy Trusts

Content Type

TP-Posts

Publish date

DD11YY

Summary

Laura Williams is an education leadership coach with fifteen years of leadership experience in education across business, operations, HR, finance and governance. She is a former Business Manager, CO

Teaser

Read more

by

Scott Owen

by

Scott Owen

Addressing Bullying: Transforming "Banter" into Respectful Dialogue

Teaser

Educators

Content Type

TP-Posts

Publish date

DD11YY

Summary

Creating a safe and nurturing environment for pupils is paramount in the age of evolving social dynamics. One issue that has gained significant attention in recent years is the distinction between

Teaser

Addressing the fine line between banter and bullying. Learn how seemingly harmless 'banter' can take a dark turn into hurtful bullying and the impact it has on students' well-being.

Read more
Adam Davies

by

Adam Davies

Adam Davies

by

Adam Davies

view of young girl with glasses from behind working on school work
Teaching Personnel and Ark Curriculum Plus Delivering Mathematics Mastery

Teaser

Educators

Content Type

TP-Posts

Publish date

DD11YY

Summary

Shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson addressed the Labour Party conference in October, where she announced plans to reform primary maths. Currently, one in four children leave primary school

Teaser

Discover how Teaching Personnel and Ark Curriculum Plus are revolutionizing primary math education in Leeds, Liverpool, Preston, and Sheffield.

Read more
Teacher in shirt and tie supervising students at desks taking exams in a school hall
How to Prepare Pupils for Their Mock Exams: A Guide for Educators

Teaser

Tips and Advice

Content Type

TP-Posts

Publish date

DD10YY

Summary

Mock exams are a crucial milestone in a pupil's academic journey, serving as a practice run for the real deal. As educators, you play a pivotal role in helping pupils navigate through these trial ex

Teaser

Our educator's guide offers tips to prepare students for mock exams, helping them gain confidence and perform well.

Read more
company logo
Search