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Becoming an International Teaching Assistant

The role of the teaching assistant is an incredibly important and rewarding one. You will take responsibility for shaping young minds and share in the joy and satisfaction of their accomplishments.

Like any job role, becoming an international teaching assistant can be challenging. Because you will work in an international setting, you may find that you face language barriers or cultural challenges. Many international teaching assistants also experience homesickness occasionally. But overall, there is no better career path if you’re interested in working overseas and working with children.

So how do you become an international teaching assistant? And how do you decide if the job role is the right one for you?

The role of an International Teaching Assistant

Introduction to the Role of an International Teaching Assistant

As an International Teaching Assistant, you’ll work alongside seasoned teachers and have the opportunity to create lesson plans, lead activities, and connect with children from a wide range of backgrounds. In terms of the responsibilities and expectations of being an international teaching assistant, these are identical to the duties you would perform in a classroom here in the UK. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Helping teachers prepare lesson materials, including setting up the classroom for lessons.
  • Listening to children reading, either individually or in small groups. Offering extra support to children that may be struggling with reading.
  • Offering language support, particularly if children are struggling with language barriers within the classroom.
  • Monitoring the progress of children in the class and providing feedback to the class teacher, to enable them to better support and plan lessons for the children.
  • Support children with their emotional and social needs.
  • Support the teacher when pupils’ behaviour becomes challenging and help them promote positive behaviour both on a one-to-one basis and with the class as a whole.
  • Prepare extra-curricular activities before and after school, and care for the children during their lunchtime and break times too.

As well as being beneficial to the children you are supporting and engaging with, becoming an international Teaching Assistant can also be hugely beneficial to your personal and professional growth. You have the opportunity to learn a new language and then use that in context, you get to experience a new culture and live in a new country. And you can develop your skills as a teaching assistant.

Many international teaching assistants go on to study to become teachers, either in their home countries or in the new country that they are currently working in.

There is a huge range of different educational institutions, across several countries, that are currently offering employment opportunities for international teaching assistants from the UK.

International TA duties

Gaining Language Proficiency and Communication Skills

Of course, if you wish to work as an International Teaching Assistant, it is important that you have a high level of proficiency in the host country’s language. The only exception to this rule is if you are working at an international school as an international teaching assistant. If the children you are supporting are being instructed in English, then this would be the primary language you would be expected to demonstrate efficiency in.

If you would like to improve your language skills before applying for a specific international teaching assistant role, then there are several ways to do so:

  • Sign up for a language course. This will give you the opportunity to practise with other learners at your level and to gain valuable feedback from expert tutors in the language.
  • Consume foreign language media as much as possible. This could mean watching TV in the language or reading local newspapers. If your skills are a little more basic, then try reading children’s books or watching cartoons in your chosen foreign language.
  • Practice speaking to native speakers as much as possible. Accents, speech speed, and other factors can make speaking to a native speaker feel very different, and often more difficult at first.
  • Speak as much as possible. Don’t feel shy or worry about making mistakes. The more you speak the language, the better your skills will become.

When working as an international teaching assistant it’s likely that, in most cases, your communication with your students, as well as with the faculty team and other staff, will be conducted in the host country’s language. Good communication is key to forging these new relationships, and successful teaching is generally considered to require only 50% knowledge to 50% communication skills. So take the time to ensure you learn key phrases that will help you to forge these relationships and approach your new colleagues in a way that is as warm and friendly as possible.

TA Language and Communication

Understanding Cultural Nuances and Adapting to a New Educational Environment

When working as an international teaching assistant it is important to be culturally sensitive, open-minded and adaptable. Teaching looks very different from country to country, and you should be prepared to embrace these changes and adapt your teaching methods to suit.

The best way to do this is to conduct as much research as possible into your host country’s educational system, policies, and classroom norms before you arrive. Knowledge is power, and the more knowledge you have about the teaching approaches and what to expect when you arrive, the better prepared you will be.

Cultural differences can have a key influence on teaching and learning styles. You may be supporting a teacher that is keen to maintain the traditional learning styles of their own culture. But you are more likely to find that you are working in a classroom with a teacher who is interested to learn about your own unique approaches and incorporate these into the classroom.

Building Teaching Skills and Pedagogical Knowledge as an International Teaching Assistant

When you are working as a teaching assistant overseas, it is important to take the time to understand the pedagogical approaches and teaching methodologies relevant to the host country or institution. As we mentioned above, knowledge is power, so the more you learn about these, the easier your transition will be.

As an international teaching assistant, you will have access to a wide range of resources and professional development opportunities for enhancing your teaching skills. If you don’t have ready access to these, speak to your teacher and support team about what resources are available. If you are teaching in a classroom or country where there is no funding for resources then you may have to think outside of the box.

Do you have the ability to create your own worksheets? Or access to the internet so that you can download free resources online? Twinkl is used by thousands of teachers across the UK, and the world, and although many aspects of the site can only be accessed by paid members, there are hundreds of free resources available.

A key part of the role of an international teaching assistant is to manage the classroom and plan lessons that will interest and engage all of the students. It is important to take the diverse cultural backgrounds of the students into account when doing this. And to think about your own cultural background too: how can you use this as a strength? How can you use your background, and otherly-ness, to engage the children? By thinking outside of the box in this way, you are more likely to build a connection with the children.

Building teaching skills

Establishing Effective Student-Teacher Relationships

When you enter a new classroom environment as an international teaching assistant, you may find that your pupils are wary of you. Because you are a literal, foreign entity and from a different cultural background, they may feel unsure about communicating with you initially. However, it is important to build rapport and trust with the students as soon as possible. It is essential that children feel supported in the classroom, and that they feel they can trust those adults supporting them in the classroom environment.

Some of the best ways for fostering a supportive and inclusive learning environment, and establishing an effective student-teacher relationship, include:

  • Saying hello and goodbye to each student every day. If you don’t have the opportunity to talk to your students beyond this on any given day then at least you have had this opportunity to connect and to acknowledge their hard work.
  • Believe that all your students can succeed and that you have the tools you need to support them. Whilst teachers tend to work at a higher level, international teaching assistants have a more hands-on role in the classroom and will be more active in supporting students that are struggling or need additional support.
  • Use humour. Humour is a great way to build bonds and relationships, and even in adulthood, people always remember the teacher that made them laugh. Using humour can be difficult if there is a language barrier, but this is an approach worth exploring.
  • Accept that children will make mistakes. No one is perfect, and all children will make mistakes in the classroom. Your role as an international teaching assistant is to create an environment where all children can feel welcome and comfortable. Where their mistakes and their quirks are accepted and no one feels that they are not being supported in their learning.
  • As an international teaching assistant, it is also important to consider the impact of cultural differences on effective feedback and assessment practices. Cultural differences may influence students’ learning and students from different cultures or regions will react in different ways to praise or criticism. Research the most culturally appropriate and effective ways to communicate with your students, and harness this to ensure your feedback is as effective as possible.

Navigating challenges and seeking support

Taking on a new job role will always be challenging: getting used to a new working environment, new teachers and their unique approaches, as well as building relationships with the students themselves can take time. But these challenges can feel even more significant when you are working in an international setting.

As well as the conventional challenges faced by anyone taking on a new job role, some of the specific challenges international teaching assistants face include homesickness, language barriers or cultural adjustment.

If you find that you are experiencing any of these issues, then it’s important not to suffer in silence: this is not a reflection of you or your ability to succeed. This is something that many international teaching assistants experience and there are support networks in place. Studies have shown that anywhere from 70 to 92 percent of adults will feel homesick at some point in their lives. Discuss your experiences with colleagues, mentors, and support services within the institution. They will be able to point you in the right direction to find support. You should also take time out to talk to your friends and family back home, where possible: with new technological advances, the world is now a much smaller place than it once was. These feelings of homesickness and uncertainty usually pass very quickly.

There are also things that you can do to help yourself as you take on the challenge of a new international job role. These include:

  • Maintain a healthy work-life balance. When you move to a new country it can be easy to throw yourself into work, because everyone you know is from work. But this can quickly lead to burnout. Instead, you should take time out from your work environment, develop your hobbies and meet new people. This is the best way to integrate yourself into your new community.
  • Find hobbies or activities you enjoy that lower your stress levels. This could be yoga, running, or sewing. Only you can choose what works best for you.
  • Develop your own emotional resilience. As a teaching assistant, this is something you will often work on with your students, so it’s important to practise what you teach and learn practical skills that will help you to deal with difficult emotional challenges more effectively.
Maintaining a work-life balance as a TA

Embracing Cultural Exchange and Fostering Inclusivity

When you are working as an international teaching assistant, it’s important to be culturally sensitive and understanding of the cultural norms in your host country. But it’s equally important to acknowledge the role that international teaching assistants play in promoting cultural exchange and understanding in their host country. You become a walking, talking advertisement for your home country in the school environment. International teaching assistants can respectfully share celebrations, experiences and cultural norms of their home country. This will help to promote cultural exchange and understanding and ultimately enrich the lives of the children they are supporting.

Whilst the teacher will set the higher level curriculum within the classroom, as an international teaching assistant you can integrate cultural perspectives into the curriculum and classroom activities by expressing an interest in the ethnic background of your pupils and sharing your own background, maintaining a strict level of sensitivity to language concerns and use your own first-hand experience to demonstrate that learning new languages can be tricky, and sharing your own celebrations from your home country. How do you celebrate your birthday, for example? Are there special songs or traditions you could share?

Not only is this beneficial for the children in the class on a general level, but it can also serve the deeper purpose of creating a welcoming environment for students from diverse backgrounds and fostering inclusivity. If a teacher, and person of authority, in the classroom can be from a different cultural background then this is likely to make students with different cultural backgrounds feel more at ease.

Conclusion

Becoming an international teaching assistant is an incredibly valuable and rewarding career choice. It is a great way to travel the world, explore new cultures, and can be a truly transformative experience. You will have the opportunity to learn and grow individually, as well as to enhance your CV and your career prospects. The opportunity to develop your cultural sensitivity, effective communication, and continuous learning skills is simply too valuable to miss out on.

Embarking on the journey to become an international teaching assistant is the opportunity of a lifetime. Although it is a role that can be challenging, the rewards far outweigh these challenges. This is a job role that will enhance your career, and undoubtedly enrich your life.

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