One of the most recurring topics of conversation within the groups of beginning teachers I support is teacher assistants. Some of the most common concerns I hear include:
- “I don’t know what to give Mrs. T. to do. She is always ready for the next job and I can’t keep up.”
- “She doesn’t think I should do it this way… Do you think she’s right?”
- “He knows the kids and the program better than me. How can I possibly give him directions? I’ll just follow his lead.”
- “I don’t know how to tell her that I don’t like the way she interacts with certain students.”
- “The teacher assistants aren’t getting along with each other and I’m stuck in the middle.”
It’s no surprise that this can be one of the greatest stresses for beginning teachers. A beginning teacher is often the newest member of a classroom community. In many special education settings, students remain in the same classroom for more than one school year. This often means that even the students are a part of the community that the beginning teacher is joining. There may be routines and procedures previously established that everyone knows except for the teacher. Consider an awkward pause at a party, when you are the only one that didn’t understand the reference to an inside joke. For many beginning teachers, being faced with “that’s not what we did last year” and, “Mr. G. did it a different way” can be deflating at best.
Beginning teachers generally recognize the value of having another adult support in their classroom. They have subbed in classrooms where a teacher assistant was their savior. They have heard horror stories of classrooms that should have had a teacher assistant but did not… Mostly, beginning teachers are thrilled to have the luxury of a teacher assistant and want the relationship to work. The best way to make that happen, many think, is to be nice. And luckily, the beginning teacher is pretty sure that s/he is already nice… so this should really be a non issue.
Making it Work
It’s too bad that within their studies of Educational Psychology, Differentiated Instruction, Methods of Teaching Science, Assessment Strategies and Mathematical Literacy, pre-service teachers don’t have a required field placement that focuses on management, collaboration and leadership. A semester analyzing the work of an inspiring manager whose employees always give their best effort and report feeling respected at work, would be quite a learning experience. I have yet to hear a beginning teacher tell me that s/he has such an experience… but I’m still asking and hoping! In the meantime, while I wait for the colleges to add this class for me, I do have some suggestions for teachers.
- Know about adults as learners
- Relationship, relationship, relationship
- Communication, communication, communication
- Agree upon and honor norms
- Know that everything you do and say is modeling
- Bring positive presuppositions into every interaction
The National Association of Special Education Teachers has also provided some guidance on this subject in the articles: Communication Observation And Feedback, Intro to Working With Paraprofessionals In School, Team Building With Paraprofessionals, Paraprofessional and Supervision, Solving Performance and Interpersonal Problems & Related Services Paraprofessionals.