When dealing with an ineffectual teaching assistant, frustration may become out of control. The teacher will need to step back, breathe, and start planning…a little like when planning a lesson for students. There is a strategy to developing a good lesson plan, and there is one in dealing with teaching assistants. This strategy is TDR; teaching/training, documenting, and reflecting. Ideally, the teaching assistant will be already trained, but a teacher cannot assume this to be the case. Just as when giving a lesson, have an objective ready in order to achieve a smooth transition for the teacher’s assistant. In this case, a teacher might want to consider the old standby of who, what, where, when, how, and why.
Let the teacher’s assistant know who she will be expected to help. With the advent of inclusion, the students the teacher’s assistant is mostly likely going to be involved with are special education students. These are the students who are probably going to need the most assistance. Having a lesson plan ready for the teacher’s assistant is the “what” of the situation. Here again, expectations need to be spelled out for the assistant. Also, providing an answer key may be helpful for the assistant.
Where the assisting is to take place is also important. A teacher may wish for the assistant to circulate among the students helping only those that are in obvious need, or there may be a place that students can go that is especially set up for extra assistance. Either way, a teacher needs to make sure the assistant knows of these options or lack of options.
Knowing when to help, when to interrupt, and when to make a point is very critical. There are tales of teacher assistants interrupting class time to ask questions or make comments that are usually not relevant to the lesson at hand. They have even been known to have conversations with students while a lesson is unfolding. Forestall this situation by letting the assistant know when it is appropriate/inappropriate to ask these questions, make comments, and/or have conversations with students or the teacher. The teacher will also need to let the teacher assistant know when it is appropriate for he/she to begin to help the student(s).
Teacher assistants need to know how much help to give to the students. Feeling sorry for a student may entice an assistant to just give the answers to the students. There are students that are master manipulators that will manage to manipulate the assistant into giving them the answers. Obviously, the goal is for the students to learn and giving them the answers without them first trying is not an ideal situation.
The “why” of the situation is interlaced with all the other portions of the lesson for the assistant. Just as it is important for students to know why there are learning the lesson they are learning, it is important for the teacher’s assistant to know why a teacher runs his/her classroom the way he/she does. The assistant needs to know why all of this is important to the structure of the classroom. It also helps, just as with students, for the assistant to “buy into” what is trying to be accomplished in the classroom, with the lesson, and most importantly, with the students.
There are two people that should be involved in documenting. They are the teacher and the teaching assistant. Encourage the assistant to keep a journal of concerns, questions, and comments. Hopefully, the teacher is already doing this. Encourage the assistant to be objective and specific in his/her observations. Try to plan to meet at least once a week to go over these journals together. Once again, this promotes the “buy in” effect. The teacher’s assistant may notice something that the teacher missed, or the teacher may have helpful insight into a problem or concern the assistant is having with a particular student. Brainstorming upon the problem and how to handle it can take place at this time.
It is pertinent to mention at this point, that when a teacher documents, those journals can then be taken to the department head and/or principal if all the techniques instilled are not helping the teacher’s assistant improve their performance. It may become obvious that the assistant should go into another line of work, or it may just be a personality clash between the two involved parties.
Reflection needs to be done by both the teacher and the teacher’s assistant. This probably should be done prior to the date of the conference between the two involved parties. Reflection will aid in whether something is a priority or not. It also tends to begin the circle of TDR again. Upon reflection, a plan is implemented to change or modify what is in place.
In conclusion, the training of a teacher’s assistant needs to take place as soon as possible just as you would train/teach a student the structure of your classroom. The strategy of TDR can help this. It does not matter which technique a teacher begins with as long as all the elements are included. For instance, a teacher may wish to begin with documenting, then reflecting, and then implementation of training. It depends on what is required. In the end, a teacher needs to remember that assistants do not possess the same training and patience is required.