Interview with a Teaching Assistant

1-2 minutes

We recently caught up with James Cooke, a SEND Teaching Assistant from the North West of England to discover more about his day to day responsibilities in the classroom, what advice he would give to someone looking to enter the education sector and what he would change about the education industry if he could. 

How did you decide you wanted to work in the education industry?

A large amount of my family are either currently or have been teachers of some description in the past and as such it has always seemed like a natural career path to me. 

I also grew up teaching Martial Arts from about the age of 7 so with prior experience in the field, I felt it would be worth expanding that into other areas of education. 

After leaving college, I found myself uninterested by standard retail jobs and wanted to try my hand at something more personal and rewarding.

Where do you see your career and the education sector in 5 years time?

Hopefully in 5 years time, I will have finished University with an Ancient History qualification. I would like to be able to use this to later teach History at either GCSE or A-Level stages, however my recent work in Special Needs schools has shaken that outlook somewhat. 

I would hope that regardless of if I was working in mainstream or special needs, that I would continue to get as much support as I do now and that others like myself in the role would be able to contribute in a way that benefits them as much as the people around them.

Which of your personal attributes have helped you throughout your career so far? 

I’ve found that confidence has helped a lot and the most helpful skill to grasp was learning to not hold myself back from opportunities to learn. Especially when entering the industry without experience, being able to accept that while you might not know something, the people around you could, is important. 

Being able to turn to others for advice and support has been a really big step. I found it tempting to slip into the mindset of trying to handle everything myself but with a profession as complex, and sometimes even delicate as education, being able to turn to my peers for help has enabled me to face challenges that I never could have dealt with alone.

What advice would you give to someone looking to enter the education sector?

Other than not to face problems alone, I think the thing to focus on is that what you do should be enjoyable. I have been very lucky to quickly find a part of education that fits me well and that is a huge part of why I have had such a positive experience. 

Making sure you are comfortable around the kinds of individuals you will be dealing with and ensuring you understand their needs is vital to making sure that you can continue to enjoy what you do, which leads to a better experience for the people you teach.

What kind of responsibilities does your role as a Teaching Assistant entail?

I have been working with Special Needs children for a few months now and the priority is always making sure that each young person is as regulated as possible and in the right headspace to learn. 

The phrase “You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink” is very true across the education sector, doubly so for children with special educational needs. 

My role as a Teaching Assistant is to ensure that each young person feels mentally well and prepared enough to begin learning, and then to try to maintain that equilibrium so that they can learn in a safe and effective way. 

By ensuring that they are ready to learn, we make the process of education easier for them to handle and for us to deliver, along with hopefully making school a safe and enjoyable place for them to be.

What good habits will help someone in a career in education?

From my experience, rapport is immensely important. Establishing a healthy work relationship with other members of staff is essential to make sure that each member of the team feels supported in all areas of their work. 

This also extends to students, where building up trust between yourself and them is imperative to you being able to properly help them learn. 

Once you enter a new school, making a habit of smiling at as many people as possible (without being too extra about it) is an excellent way to immediately build a good foundation and you will find more people will engage with you.

How important is career progression to you?

I am in an unusual position as I finished College last year but start University next year, so my immediate progression is very limited. 

I do believe however that progression should always be possible for people that want it, and as such my focus is on giving the people around me opportunities to prove themselves capable of taking on more responsibility, and with that more privilege. 

Once I am out the other side of University, I will look to return properly into education and from there would like to begin working my way upwards, but never to the exclusion of the role I am currently in. The best way to describe it would likely be that I would like the opportunity there, but my goal would not be to climb “to the top” as quickly as possible.

If you could make one change within the education industry, what would it be and why?

This issue comes from a lack of people able to fill the role, but if it were possible, I would like to see more staff in schools generally. I think that having the ability to move staff between rooms would take some of the pressure off when someone is ill or away for whatever reason. 

The knowledge that your absence would not cause too much of an issue would massively help staff’s ability to do their job I think, as they feel they have the security to be able to take a moment's break should they need it. 

While schools handle people being off very well and other staff are always happy to step up and allow their colleges that time, I think more numbers would allow this to be done more efficiently.

Is there anything you wish you knew about the education sector before you started?

I think most people see teaching as quite a thankless job from an outsider's perspective, and admittedly I was worried about that myself when heading into the role. 

However, I feel satisfied seeing young people grow as they learn, even on such a small time frame, and this is absolutely worth your time. 

There will always be moments when you find a role tough but when you think about what you have helped these young people accomplish and how influential you are to their development, I find at least that it feels immeasurably worthwhile. 

I also wish I knew how much you feel like a community when in a classroom, as I think the bond that forms in a space like that can’t be properly visualised until you have seen it yourself.

Share your experience

Every individual brings a unique set of experiences, thoughts, and insights to the table. We believe in giving a voice to a community of professionals to inspire positive change and champion reform in the education sector.  

If you work in the education sector and would like to share your own personal and professional experiences, we’d love to hear from you. Perhaps you have a different perspective, could offer a fresh angle, or want to challenge assumptions. 

Simply reach out to our Head of Content, Nicole Sherwood, to discuss a collaboration which makes your voice count. 

Who is Spencer Clarke Group? 

Since 2017, we've been changing the face of recruitment. From our employees, to the way we do business, to the culture within our office, we're determined to make a difference and create a positive impact on everyone around us.

Recruitment to us isn't just about matching candidates and clients; we’re passionate about finding candidates the perfect job which has the ability to boost their salary and standard of living, better their work life balance and improve their mental health. 

Similarly, we understand the impact which an experienced and skilled employee can make to a business and we love seeing clients thrive through the hard work of candidates which we have placed with them. 

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