Why become a teacher aide?
Welcome to one of the most rewarding careers that anyone can contemplate pursuing! Teacher aides (as they are commonly called) are essential paraprofessionals who hold important yet often challenging roles in the school community. They are also known as teacher assistants, integration aides, education assistants, school support officers and many other titles. We use the term TA in this book for nothing more than simplicity.
TAs spend more time working one-on-one and with small groups of students than classroom teachers. Research by Webster et al. (2011) and Blatchford et al. (2007) confirmed that TAs spend more than 80% of their time (4 hours per day) in direct instructional roles, and they engage in sustained interactions with students 9 times more often than teachers.
In other words, they spend most of their time helping individual students or ‘teaching’ small groups. The work of TAs is important because one-on-one instruction is a very effective method for improving student performance (Vadasy et al., 1997; Andersen et al., 2020).
TAs have been shown to have a positive effect on student learning and behaviour when they are trained in best-practice instructional strategies and techniques. Andersen et al. (2020) showed that TAs could improve students’ reading skills by 13% provided they were trained in how to implement a reading program systematically.
A US study also showed that providing TAs with proper training resulted in an immediate positive impact on students’ writing performance (Lushen et al., 2012). Similar results were found in a Western Australian study which taught reading skills to second language learners (Fried et al., 2012).
A UK study showed that TAs using best-practice instructional strategies could help students progress 1.5 years in a 4-month period (See et al., 2019). This study was specific to maths, but the same results are almost certain to apply across the board. It also showed that TAs are as effective as teachers in one-on-one situations – provided the TA consistently used best-practice strategies (which you will soon read about).
While TAs are employed to assist both teachers and students with basic learning tasks, in reality they take on a far more important role. TAs are commonly responsible for complex pedagogical (teaching) tasks such as adjusting learning materials and resources (Howard & Ford, 2007).
Teachers rely heavily on TAs to reduce their stress and workload (Giangreco et al., 2005), to keep students ‘on task’, and to provide individualised support to students with disabilities or SwDs (Butt, 2016b). They also sometimes carry out medical tasks such as glucose monitoring (Abbott et al., 2011).
Without the dedicated work of TAs, most SwDs would not be able to enrol in mainstream classes (Giangreco et al., 2012). Teachers simply could not manage a class of 25-32 students while providing adequate behavioural, educational and personal support to students with high needs.
TAs are the mechanism which provides SwDs with the opportunity to learn alongside their non-disabled and neurotypical peers – they make inclusion possible (Gibson et al., 2016) and are often the go-between between the teacher and the student (Lehane, 2016). TAs are the assimilation tickets that allow SwDs to enter mainstream classrooms (Rutherford, 2012).
Teacher aides have become a mainstay in schools around the developed world including in the US, the UK and Australia. There are approximately 60,000 TAs spread out over 9,000 schools in Australia (Job Outlook, 2020). Around 30% of people employed in schools work as teacher aides (Western Australia Department of Education, 2020).
There is no doubt that TAs provide a valuable and essential service – but why should you become one?
- Many TAs find their work to be extremely rewarding – teaching children to read for example, while challenging, is a critical component of a child’s education and necessary for future success. Without the work of TAs, many students would fall further and further behind their peers.
- While the work of TAs often goes unnoticed and can sometimes feel thankless, their work touches the lives of countless people. TAs play a central role in helping at-risk children to break the poverty trap. Note: The poverty trap is an intergenerational cycle – children of parents with low education tend to have low education themselves. A large multi-decade longitudinal study showed that “parents’ educational level when their child was 8 years old significantly predicted educational and occupational success for the child 40 years later”. (Dubow, Boxer, Huesmann, 2009, p. 1).
- Few occupations contribute to the local community as much as TAs. A typical TA might help hundreds, thousands, or even tens of thousands of students during their career – their work impacts the lives of a huge number of families, which in turn has a positive impact on the community as a whole.
- Many TAs choose their career path in part because it provides a family friendly lifestyle. The hours are reasonable and there are plenty of holidays for relaxation and recuperation. There is no weekend or evening work. Once qualified you can work almost anywhere in the world, or with any age group, disability, school or subject.
- Think that working as a TA is pretty easy? Think again. As you will soon learn, there is a lot more to working as a teacher aide than you may initially believe. There is no end to the professional development opportunities available to you – in other words, the learning never stops. But the more you can learn, the better you will be able to help your students to progress and the more confident you will become.
There are many other reasons why people choose the TA career path. There is no doubt that TAs play a key instructional role in students’ learning, development and behaviour. More often than not, they are the main ‘teacher’ of students who have the most complex and challenging needs, such as those with autism (Coates et al., 2017).
For this reason, the role should not be taken lightly. A professional approach is always required. This includes learning and applying a range of best-practice strategies to maximise your students’ educational, social and behavioural outcomes.
- Abbott, L., McConkey, R., Dobbins, M. (2011). Key players in inclusion: are we meeting the professional needs of learning support assistants for pupils with complex needs? European Journal of Special Needs Education, 26(2), 215-231. https://doi.org/10.1080/08856257.2011.563608
- Andersen, S. C., Beuchert, L., Nielsen, H. S., Thomsen, M. K. (2020). The Effect of Teacher's Aides in the Classroom: Evidence from a Randomized Trial. Journal of the European Eco36nomic Association, 18(1), 469–505. https://doi.org/10.1093/jeea/jvy048
- Blatchford, P., Russell, A., Bassett, P., Brown, P., & Martin, C. (2007). The Role and Effects of Teaching Assistants in English Primary Schools (Years 4 to 6) 2000-2003. Results from the Class Size and Pupil-Adult Ratios (CSPAR) KS2 Project. British Educational Research Journal, 33(1), 5-26. https://doi.org/10.1080/01411920601104292
- Butt, R. (2016b). Teacher assistant support and deployment in mainstream schools. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 20(9), 995-1007. https://doi.org/10.1080/13603116.2016.1145260
- Coates, M., Lamb, J., Bartlett, B., Datta, P. (2017). Autism Spectrum Disorder Coursework for Teachers and Teacher-Aides: An Investigation of Courses Offered in Queensland, Australia. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 42(11), 65-80. https://doi.org/10.14221/ajte.2017v42n11.5
- Dubow, E.F., Boxer, P., & Huesmann, L.R. (2009). Long-term Effects of Parents' Education on Children's Educational and Occupational Success: Mediation by Family Interactions, Child Aggression, and Teenage Aspirations. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly 55(3), 224-249. https://doi.org/10.1353/mpq.0.0030.
- Fried, L., Konza, D., Mulcahy, P. (2012). Paraprofessionals implementing a research-based reading intervention. Australian Journal of Learning Difficulties, 17(1), 35-54. https://doi.org/10.1080/19404158.2012.674052
- Giangreco, M. F., Doyle, M. B., & Suter, J. C. (2012). Constructively Responding to Requests for Paraprofessionals: We Keep Asking the Wrong Questions. Remedial and Special Education, 33(6), 362–373. https://doi.org/10.1177/0741932511413472
- Giangreco, M. F., Yuan, S., McKenzie, B., Cameron, P., & Fialka, J. (2005). "Be careful what you wish for ...": Five reasons to be concerned about the assignment of individual paraprofessionals. Teaching Exceptional Children, 37(5), 28-34. https://doi.org/10.1177/004005990503700504
- Gibson, D., Paatsch, L., & Toe, D. (2016). An Analysis of the Role of Teachers’ Aides in a State Secondary School: Perceptions of Teaching Staff and Teachers’ Aides. Australasian Journal of Special Education, 40(1), 1-20. https://doi.org/10.1017/jse.2015.11
- Howard, R., Ford, J. (2007). The Roles and Responsibilities of Teacher Aides Supporting Students with Special Needs in Secondary School Settings. Australasian Journal of Special Education, 31(1), 25-43. https://doi.org/10.1080/10300110701268461
- Job Outlook. (2020) Teachers' Aides Occupation. Australia, National Skills Commission. https://joboutlook.gov.au/occupations/teachers-aides?occupationCode=422116
- Lehane, T. (2016). “Cooling the mark out”: experienced teaching assistants’ perceptions of their work in the inclusion of pupils with special educational needs in mainstream secondary schools. Educational Review, 68(1), 4-23. https://doi.org/10.1080/00131911.2015.1058753
- Lushen, K., Kim, O., Reid, R. (2012). Paraeducator-Led Strategy Instruction for Struggling Writers. Exceptionality, 20(4), 250-265. https://doi.org/10.1080/09362835.2012.724626
- Rutherford, G. (2012). In, out or somewhere in between? Disabled students' and teacher aides' experiences of school. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 16(8), 757-774. https://doi.org/10.1080/13603116.2010.509818
- See, B. H., Morris, R., Gorard, S., & Siddiqui, N. (2019). Evaluation of the impact of Maths Counts delivered by teaching assistants on primary school pupils’ attainment in maths. Educational Research and Evaluation, 25(3-4), 203-224. https://doi.org/10.1080/13803611.2019.1686031
- Vadasy, P. F., Jenkins, J. R., Antil, L. R., Wayne, S. K., & O’Connor, R. E. (1997). The Effectiveness of One-to-One Tutoring by Community Tutors for at-Risk Beginning Readers. Learning Disability Quarterly, 20(2), 126–139. https://doi.org/10.2307/1511219
- Webster, R., Blatchford, P., Bassett, P., Brown, P., Martin, C., Russell, A. (2011). The wider pedagogical role of teaching assistants. School Leadership & Management, 31(1), 3-20. https://doi.org/10.1080/13632434.2010.540562
- Western Australia. Department of Education. (2020). Statistical Reports. http://det.wa.edu.au/schoolinformation/detcms/navigation/statistical-reports