While education and training is a must for teaching assistants, a genuine love of children in a classroom is a key to being effective in this important role. Teaching assistants are valuable resources for lead teachers, who need to rely heavily on their judgment and input.
While you need to be a patient sort in any teaching position, teaching assistants need an extra measure of patience and compassion, as they are often called on to assist with students who need special attention. Teaching assistants often provide one-on-one help for students, and they work in small group settings to help students who need to get up to speed, make up work or have in-depth instruction in a particular area. If these students are frustrated or overwhelmed in the process, it requires lots of understanding and patience to help them.
The teaching assistant works in collaboration with the lead classroom teacher, and a teamwork approach helps the instructors and the students. Assistants must be able to take direction from the teacher and follow her established lesson plan and teaching approach while also having the initiative to act independently, when necessary, to keep things running smoothly. The teacher and teaching assistant must be able to communicate openly and effectively to ensure students are getting the best possible instruction.
Different circumstances can change the dynamic of a classroom environment without warning. Teaching assistants need to be flexible enough to go with the flow and effectively follow directives of the lead classroom teacher. A teacher may opt to change the class agenda to better prepare for a test, take advantage of outside educational opportunities or to meet the school district's requirements. A teaching assistant needs to be able to quickly change focus and jump on board with new approaches to maintain continuity in the classroom.
Teaching assistants are often assigned to different teachers as they are needed, and adaptability to different teaching styles is vital. Teaching assistants may be asked to work with different grades or subjects or a regular basis, and they must be able to rapidly come up to speed and adjust to the new curriculum and approach of that lead teacher. Knowledge of a range of subject matter is useful, as is the ability to quickly assess an existing classroom dynamic and integrate seamlessly into any classroom.
Lisa McQuerrey has been a business writer since 1987. In 1994, she launched a full-service marketing and communications firm. McQuerrey's work has garnered awards from the U.S. Small Business Administration, the International Association of Business Communicators and the Associated Press. She is also the author of several nonfiction trade publications, and, in 2012, had her first young-adult novel published by Glass Page Books.