Not “at the head of the class”, but still very important: Teaching Assistants

Posted on September 15, 2017 by kerri
If you have a child with a disability or other special needs, your child may receive support at school from a Teaching Assistant, also known as a Teacher’s Aide or Educational Assistant, or a Paraprofessional or Instructional Aide depending on where you are—and sometimes, according to their training, depending on where you live. Today, we’re going to call them Teaching Assistants or TAs. Teaching assistants are often very passionate about ensuring kids with special learning needs get the most they can out of all aspects of school—in the classroom, the gym, on field trips, and when socializing with their peers. Sometimes, TAs will even work with a child through a few grades, to minimize the adjustment needed when they move up to a new classroom.
How do Teaching Assistants help kids in the classroom?
TAs help with many roles of teaching and classroom management, both assisting students with and without special needs or disabilities, as well as with exceptional or gifted students. Some may help students just in a specific subject area they struggle with, like reading or math, others may work with students throughout the entire day. Often, students with behaviour challenges, disabilities autism or other intellectual or developmental disabilities, and students with significant movement disabilities, will be paired with a TA for most or all classroom work. Children with sensory disabilities, such as those who are blind or have low vision may work with a TA on adapting their work, as well as learning specific skills, such as Braille or when learning technology that will help them in school; children who are hard-of-hearing or d/Deaf may also receive instructional support from a teaching assistant who may use sign language or other communication methods to help with instruction.
TAs do not just help children who need them learn, they help them to develop positive relationships and social interaction with other children. As well, they promote a healthy and positive environment in the classroom for all learners, allowing individualized attention to be given to students who need it, which gives the classroom teacher the ability to focus dividing their time between all students.
Do Teaching Assistants help kids with medical conditions?
This depends on their training. Specifically, administering medication or managing medical conditions is not the role of a TA, but children with disabilities who also have a medical condition may receive some of this support from their TA. Most of the time, students with medical conditions will receive assistants from a school nurse, however, in some cases, a TA may be trained to help with medical needs of students either ongoing or as a back-up, such as young children with type 1 diabetes who need to check blood sugar and administer insulin, or administering inhalers or medicines to children who need them at school. The responsibilities of TAs will vary in this regard greatly between schools and districts, and whether or not a school nurse is available.
For an example, when I worked in a daycare, we had a child who had autism as well as a nut allergy. While most children are expected to self-carry their Epi-Pens, this child’s epinephrine was carried by the teaching assistant until the end of the day, when it was handed over to the staff member providing care at the daycare. It turned out that this child, even in kindergarten, was responsible, however, the child’s parents made the decision it was safest to ensure life-saving medication was in the hands of an adult so that it was not lost or played with—this is a specific example, but it is one way a TA may be important to the safety of a child with additional medical needs at school. Children with disabilities and medical conditions would benefit from wearing one of our kids medical IDs, to make sure all teachers, TAs and school staff can identify their needs in an emergency.
Thank a Teaching Assistant!
If your child’s classroom has a TA, remember to say thank you! Whether or not they directly help your child, they help their teacher maintain a stable classroom environment, by helping students who need it, as well as helping the teacher with tasks like attendance, managing the classroom and enforcing rules. TAs can also make classrooms better by being an extra set of eyes and ears to note what may be working for students and what might not be—making students learning experiences better! Tomorrow is National Teaching Assistants’ Day–what better day to say thanks?

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