Special education in UK doesn’t work the same way it does in US. In the States, qualified teachers with degrees and certifications work with children with special needs, in a variety of settings (one on one, small group, entire class). They are called “special education teachers“, and earn more than most people working in education. In the UK, however, you’ll often have just a “ordinary” teacher in the classroom. But they have an assistant, or more assistants, who help them in the lessons when it comes to children with special needs. Such position is called “special needs teaching assistant“, and we will look at the interview for this job right now.
Let me start with good news. You do not need a degree to get this job. What’s more, you may even get it without any previous experience in the field (though at least volunteering at school prior to your application is preferred). You will get a training before starting on the job, learning the ins and outs of your role. Hence in this hiring process motivation, personal qualities, and right attitude matter more than education or previous experience in the field.
The hiring committee will inquire about your motivation, goals, idea of the job, and of course about some tricky situations you may face in this job, wondering how you’d react in them. The interview won’t be particularly difficult, but some questions may still catch you by surprise. That’s why it is important to prepare for them in advance, and we will have a look at them now, one by one.
Why do you want to work as a special needs teaching assistant?
You should focus on two areas in your answer. First one, what you can bring onboard. For example, you have great understanding for children with special needs, their world, the problems they experience. You can explain things in the simplest way, have great observation skills, and believe to be able to have a smooth cooperation with any teacher. Summing it up, you believe to have what it takes to do an excellent job as a special needs teaching assistant, and the lesson will become better and easier for both the teacher and the students with your assistance.
Second area to talk about are your expectations on the job, what it will bring to your life. Obviously you can talk about the meaningful purpose, that you find it incredibly motivating to work with these children, helping them to reach their full potential, however limited by their physical or mental condition. But you can also mention more practical reasons–such as summer holidays, or regular working hours (it isn’t bad arriving home at three pm every day), or anything else that makes this job attractive to you.
How do you imagine your role in the classroom working as a special needs teaching assistant?
The key is to mention a variety of duties, but at the same time stay within the limits of your responsibilities. What I try to say here is that you are an assistant, not a teacher, or a school psychologist, and you shouldn’t show some fancy expectations in an interview, such as helping the students get rid of their behavioral issues. That simply isn’t a part of your job, and you should try to keep it realistic. Talking about the duties, you can mention the following:
- Preparing learning resources as instructed by the teacher.
- Encouraging the students during the learning process.
- Helping children understand instructions, through repetition, re-phrasing or demonstrating, either one on one, or for a smaller group of students.
- Trying to encourage active communication in the classroom.
- Providing critical feedback and assistance to teachers as they need.
- Supporting children in social activities and on outings.
- Recognizing signs of distress in children and offering reassurance.
- Helping children with physical disability around the classroom.
- Taking care of necessary paperwork.
Another alternative is summarizing your role in a single sentence, such as that you see your role as assisting the teacher during the lessons, making sure that special needs students are not left behind, and that the teacher can progress according to the lesson plans throughout the year. You will do whatever is needed to achieve this goal.
Where do you see yourself in five years from now?
You do not need to be ambitious to succeed in this interview. In fact, your career growth options are rather limited in this case, unless you plan to advance in your education, and perhaps eventually become a teacher. But it is completely all right saying that you’ll be happy to work as a special needs teaching assistant in five years from now, because you really want to have this job, and see a meaningful purpose in the role.
Of course, you can say that you hope to be a much better assistant–since you’ll learn so much while working in the classroom. You can also aim for a position of higher level teaching assistant (HLTA), but they shouldn’t get an impression that you see your job just as a means to an end.
Another alternative is saying that you want to focus on the present, and will try to do your job as well as possible. You will see what happens in five years from now, but no doubt if you do a good job, and commit yourself 100% to your role, good things will happen in five years from now. Last option is focusing more on your life outside of work. Perhaps you hope to start a family in five years time, or have some other meaningful plans. You can definitely share them with your interviewers at this point.
How do you feel about criticizing the teacher?
Giving feedback to the teacher is an important part of this job. Because teachers may struggle to see their work from some distance. On the contrary, working with special needs students, and having a different position in the classroom, you can valuate the effectiveness of their teaching methods, especially in relation to the children you work with.
Ensure the hiring committee that you want to provide constructive feedback to the teacher, even if you need to criticize them. At the end of the day, we are here in the classroom for the students, their progress matters more than our ego. Hence you will do all you can to help the children achieve their educational goals. In order to do that, you may sometimes have to share a difficult feedback with the the teacher.
I suggest you to elaborate on your answer, saying that you will always try to choose the right words, because the last thing you want to achieve is having a toxic relationship with the teachers. What’s more, you are ready to both give and receive the difficult feedback, because you understand that the teacher may also see your work from some perspective, and hearing that can only help you progress in your role.
You are in the midst of a Math lesson, and one of the children is not getting the lesson. What will you do?
This is a typical example from a work of special needs teaching assistant. They key is to identify the problem early, and do what you can to help the child get the lesson, while the teacher moves on with their lecture, for the rest of the students.
You can say that you will sit next to the student, and repeat the instructions, making sure they interrupt you as soon as they arrive to the roadblock, as soon as they stop getting it. Then you will use examples, demonstration, you will try to simplify the lesson, simply do everything to help them understand. You can also add that you will do it in a quiet way, in order to not disturb the rest of the classroom.
Of course, in many cases your attempts will end in vain. The student in question won’t get it, regardless of how hard you try. This is something you should be ready to accept while working with students who have special educational needs. Efforts counts more than results in this profession. Sometimes we simply have to accept our own limitations, and the limitations of the students, and simply move on….
Other questions you may face in your special needs teaching assistant job interview
- In your opinion, what role does paperwork play in this job?
- Three students demand your attention at once during the lesson. What will you do?
- What are your salary expectations?
- What are your strengths and weaknesses as a teacher?
- The teacher struggles with discipline in the classroom, and half of the children do not follow their instructions. What will you do in such a case, from your position?
- One of the students shares with you that they consider committing a suicide. What will you do?
- How will you encourage active communication in the classroom?
Interview for a special needs teaching assistant job belongs to interview with average difficulty. While you do not need to meet any special criteria in terms of education and prior experience, you will need to show the right attitude to this job, and readiness for some tricky situations you may experience in the classroom.
Read the questions once again, and try to come up with at least a short answer to each one of them. I also suggest you to do a good research about your future place of work. The better you know them, the easier it will be to connect with your interviewers, and eventually get this job. I wish you good luck!
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