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Contribution Published 20 Aug 2013

Making best use of your TA



I'M in a classroom helping students learn — I'm a teacher aide (TA), and while some teachers acknowledge and appreciate my help, others ignore me.

What's going on? There is clearly confusion about the TA's role.

TAs in high schools are there to help students with disabilities, in any subject, from calculus to mechanics.

This demands special skills and a good TA must: immediately establish rapport with students; and get up to speed with the lesson in the first five minutes.

TAs have long been an established resource in our school, yet teacher training excludes information on how best to utilise them. Why isn't their role covered in teacher training?

Teacher-centred learning cannot make best use of TAs. They can help a teacher give all their students individual attention but only if the teacher creates their lesson plan knowing this.

TAs make group, peer and collaborative learning easier and more enjoyable for everyone, including the teacher, but achieving this demands collaborative teaching.

TAs are also often privy to information invaluable to but hidden from teachers. As part of the Learning Support team they can give teachers useful feedback on who understood what and who didn't. Students tell TAs things about a lesson they are too afraid to share with their teacher.

They also hold information invaluable to their principal. A principal with only 10 minutes to spare for observing a class may not be able to adequately assess how lessons are going.

For a good TA, it can be very frustrating to have this knowledge but be unable to contribute to improved teaching practice.

Of course, not all TAs are equal — some are highly educated and have skills in other fields, but all TAs are required to work one-on-one with students and to do so with minimal, if any, training in how to manage or tutor students.

Despite the significant contribution they make, they are a low cost resource and schools understandably want to keep it that way.

What training there is has little impact on a TA's earning power. A Certificate III in Education Support costs around $2300 and recovering this would take a TA a long time.

Teacher aiding isn't a career; according to the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission the hourly rate and hours available are low and insufficient to support a family.

TAs can add huge value to both teacher job satisfaction and to students' experiences at school but this demands teamwork. When that happens everyone benefits.

Pen Donovan has worked as both a teacher and teacher aide over the past 10 years.

This story appeared in the September 2013 edition of Australian Teacher Magazine.

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