Teachers will welcome all the help they can get. Unfortunately, teachers are not always prepared for the help that comes their way. Even the most experienced teacher can improve their management of the resources available. It is essential to know who is available to you and then plan the best way to use their time and skills. Education Assistants (EA) or Teacher Aides (TA) and even parent helpers are the human resources of your classroom and they are often left untapped. Here are 5 ways to ensure you are getting the most out of the assistance in your classroom.
#1 PLAN and ORGANISE
This should go without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway. Effective teachers have a goal for each lesson and plan learning experiences accordingly. Effective teachers plan ahead so that all the resources (from videos to pens and paper) are readily available and valuable learning time is not wasted on ‘getting organised’. If you know the plan for the lesson and the learning goals of the lesson ahead of time, you can communicate them to your EA and make sure you are on the same page.
At my school, learning support TA’s are accessed through a booking system on our school network. Teachers who want a TA to support students, have to know ahead of time (at least 24 hours) and make a booking. Part of the booking process includes a short description of how the TA will be utilised during the lesson. Descriptions like “crowd control” or “behaviour management” are not accepted in this system. The Teacher has to have a clear purpose for the extra person in the classroom.
#2 PROVIDE NOTES AND PLANS
NOTES: If there are notes going on the board for students to copy take extra copies and give them to the EA. How the EA uses these notes will depend on your classroom context, but you should always have them available. Worksheets are also a good reference for the EA to have.
If EAs are supporting in my classroom for assessment, I will give them a blank copy of the assessment task as well as an answer sheet.
PLANS: Regardless of the support you want the EA to provide, a lesson outline is very important for the EA to have. If you want the EA to sit with a few students during the lesson and simply keep them on task, it might help them to know which parts of the lesson are vital for the student to attend. If they know that the student will have to listen for a few minutes and will then have an opportunity to move, they will be able to help the student stay focused with a promised change of pace.
Plans are especially important when you ask the EA to work with a small group or lead an activity while you are working with others. The EA will need to know what you want the students to achieve, the prompts you want the EA to use with the students and focus questions for students to answer.
To be effective the EA will need to be aware of the following aspects of your lesson.
- Learning goals
- Literacy & Numeracy priorities
- The task, resources, time allocated
- The context of the learning in relation to past/future work – particularly assessment
- Teaching and learning strategies to be used
- Planned differentiation
- Learning outcomes
#3 TALK TO YOUR EA
If possible meet with your EA before they come and work in your classroom. At the very least, ensure you know their name and negotiate how they will be addressed by students.
You may find it useful to discuss the following with your EA:
- How will you address each other in front of the students?
- Which students have learning difficulties and who will need the most assistance?
- What are the behaviour expectations in your classroom and how is behaviour managed?
- How do you want the EA to manage behaviour in the classroom? Some teachers want all behaviour issues referred to them immediately while others prefer the EA handle it to a certain point.
#4 MAKE THE PROFESSIONAL RELATIONSHIP CLEAR TO STUDENTS
An EA is a paraprofessional in the classroom and an adult. When the EA enters your classroom, introduce them to the class and explain why the EA is there. For example: “This is Ms Graham, she has come to help us with our reading today”. Make it clear to students that you respect the EA and you know what the EA will be doing. This goes a long way to ensuring the EA has the respect of the students and is able to focus on educational support instead of getting the kids on side.
#5 TAP INTO THE KNOWLEDGE AND OBSERVATIONS OF THE EA
EAs spend most of their time working in the classroom.
I know from experience that the EA’s know more about students’ background, behaviour in other classes and interests.
They also see lots of teaching strategies, behaviour management systems and strategies, assessment items and most of all: resources. Use your EA to help you find resources or make extra copies of things they see in other classrooms. Show your EA resources you are planning to use and ask their opinion. If you don’t agree with them, you don’t have to follow their advice, but sometimes fresh eyes see things that tired ones don’t. Remember they see the students in plenty of other classrooms and can usually tell when a worksheet is too busy or too difficult for a student they are supporting.
When in your classroom the EA is an extra pair of eyes and often sees things that you might miss.
There have been several occasions when the EA in my classroom has noticed the hidden struggling student before me (there is always one that blends in to the background), pre-empted student conflicts and recognised positive student behaviour while I’m busy dealing with the negatives. My EA tells me what she has seen and then I can deal with it how I see fit. Having that extra pair of eyes in my classroom helps me be a better teacher.
Education Assistants or Teacher Aides are an asset to any classroom. Most EA’s are passionate about education and have a “how can I help?” attitude. They build positive relationships with kids as well as teachers and bring a whole new perspective to the classroom. The most important message here is communication. EAs are ready, willing and able to make a huge difference in your classroom; so tell them what you need and expect that they will deliver. In fact, more often than not, they will give above and beyond your expectations.