5 Essential Tips for English Teaching Assistants

1.       Remember the level of teaching!

If you’ve spent the last three to four years deconstructing the English language, the odds are that sentences ending in prepositions, split infinitives, and dangling modifiers feel like nails on a chalkboard in your mind. That being said, explaining to a Year 7 that a future subjunctive is only used in Spanish may be a few brutal grammar text-books too early. Make sure you correct any glaring errors but, in general, read the room and stick to the teacher’s instructions.

2.       If in doubt, ask the pupil to look in a dictionary.

You may have realised that being an English Teaching Assistant means your job is to know the meaning of EVERY single word in the English language. You may also have noticed that children are unforgiving. Do yourself a favour and don’t guess at a word you are unsure about. That’s a disaster waiting to happen. Instead, and this is where one of the oldest tricks in the book comes in, ask the pupil to look it up themselves. This, ostensibly, is an important lesson in independence and dictionary work. Remember to nod authoritatively when they tell you the answer.

3.       Don’t look down on the teachers for lesser subject knowledge.

Working for someone often gives you an automatic belief that they know more than you. Surely if it was the other way around, they should be working for you, right? Wrong. You have just finished university and have the advantage of three years of recent knowledge barrelling around your mind. Chances are, the teacher has been away from the front lines of English for a few years. However, what they may lack in subject knowledge they will more than make up for in teaching knowledge. Knowing every single Shakespeare sonnet doesn’t make you a good teacher; being able to connect with students about them does. Listen to the teacher with an open mind.

4.       English is not your only option

Yes you have joined the school as an English Teaching Assistant and yes you did an English degree, but, importantly, you are still not confined to the future role of English Teacher. If you did any of the so called priority subjects at A-Level (Biology, Chemistry, Computing, DT, Geography, Languages,  Maths, and Physics) you can take a Subject Knowledge Enhancement course paid for by the government. If your experience in a school has been positive, but you feel English isn’t the subject for you, then there are plenty of different ways to become a teacher.

5.       Keep reading

You probably chose to become an English Teaching Assistant, perhaps indirectly, because of your love of reading. If that’s the case, remember that reading is what drew you here and it’s what can keep you motivated. As your workload increases and you feel ready to break down over analysing the same paragraph in To Kill a Mockingbird for the 80th time, it can be easy to swear off literature for pleasure. However, reading will keep your English muscles limber and hopefully remind you of why you’re here to begin with. 

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