Thursday, September 3, 2009

Teacher Assistants



I think it tricky working with an educational assistant (EA). If there is not chemistry, in Canada they are just assigned by the principal, if they interfere with the teaching or do discipline at inappropriate times, all can go wrong.

Teaching assistants' role queried "Pupils helped by teaching assistants make less progress than their classmates, a study suggests. The Deployment and Impact of Support Staff project surveyed 20,000 teachers and analysed the help received by more than 8,000 pupils in 153 schools in 2005-6."

The study was repeated in 2006/7, as the results boggled their minds!
It is important to have EAs understand the curriculum, and how the teacher will differentiate it for students. It is up to the teacher to do so, and not the EA. Many are a great help in mundane things like bulletin boards, assisting with skits, or dance routines in gym classes, and are happy to put some creativity into their job in this fashion. I liked to ask my EAs suggestions for a craft or art project, for example. It was her forte and she was happy to help us plan something. You can draw the best from each person with whom you work, and set up professional boundaries. Sometimes that means holding on more tightly, other times letting go.

Some EAs water down the curriculum, and do the physical activities for young elementary students (e.g., doing the cutting and pasting for a disabled student). One must be firm in this regard.

But, of course, if a student spends time with an EA, they do not spend time with the teacher. This is a difficult point. Depending upon the educator and the EA this may be a good or bad thing. It is a juggling act to balance the students, special needs or not, and another adult in the room. Whether there be gender issues, control issues, role reversal or unclear roles and hidden agendas. I have worked with some of the best and learned from them. I have worked with male EAs who didn't quite understand that I was in charge. I had to fight to ensure that I was not taken advantage of. I worked with one who tended to read a novel in the back of the room! I ended up telling her specifically what I wanted her to do. I spoke to the principal and explained my problem (the EA was the head of her union!) and explained what I was doing to solve my problem. Eventually it was resolved, although she never really took ownership of the supportive position she was to hold!

It is up the the teacher to assign duties, specify clearly what she wants from her EA, as well as specifying behaviour that is unacceptable. This can be difficult when an EA is more experienced (and/or older) than the classroom teacher. But, for the sake of the students, it must be done. Teachers are wise to read up on assertiveness and taking control, talking to mentor teachers about issues and seeking advice. The teaching profession has many stakeholders, and you have to be able to work with peers, EAs, student teachers, volunteers, as well.

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