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Monday, November 16, 2009

Teachers' Aides

Teachers' aides, or Student Learning Support Officers as they are now know in the NSW Department of Education system, are one of the most used supports for children with disabilities in regular classrooms. They are very valuable, but we as teachers and parents need to be aware of their role in the classroom.

Myths and misuse

Myth #1: Teachers' aides are responsible for the education of the child with a disability in the classroom.

Teachers' aides are not trained in education. They are not teachers. They do not have training in the syllabus or accreditation requirements for education. Therefore, they should not be called upon to plan or program for a child.

Teachers' aides may have achieved a Certificate in working with children. You can visit this TAFE NSW page for information on what Teachers' aides may have studied. For example, their subjects include learning about different types of needs and workplace safety.

So, in the classroom, aides are there hands-on support for the teacher. They help implement, assess and provide feedback for programs planned by the teacher and/or support teacher (whose role I will discuss in a future post). The primary responsibility for the day-to-day education of the child is the classroom teacher. The long-term planning is the role of the Learning Support Team.

Myth #2: Teachers aides should only be used to work one-on-one with the student to which they have been allocated... or are there to do the photocopying.

The funding for teachers' aides is based on the needs of an individual child. The number of hours they are employed is determined by the assessment of the child's needs - a process determined by the Learning Support Team. Therefore, a teacher's aide is employed to assist the teacher in furthering the education of one child.

However, this does not mean that they must sit at the back (or front) of the classroom with the child and constantly scaffold their learning. In fact, as discussed in previous posts, this can be detrimental to the inclusion and independence of the child.

Watch this video from the Teachers.TV site to get an idea of how teachers' aides can be used least intrusively:

So basically, there are a few options:

- Circulating: a teacher's aide can be used to help answer questions of students, thus freeing up the teacher to give adequate support to all children in their classroom. It also ensures the child for whom they are employed gets the chance to be independent, but also gets their questions answered immediately.

- Small groups: To maximise the hours a teacher's aide is employed, schools often group students with disabilities into the same class - whilst taking care to minimise the impact of this on the way the classroom operates and the learning of other students. In these cases the teacher's aide may work with small groups of students, especially when the class whole class is involved in small group or cooperative learning. A teacher's aide may also be used to withdraw a number of students from different classes to implement a specific program planned and supervised by the support teacher - for example, literacy programs.

- Physical assistance: A teachers' aide may also be needed to assist a child in the physical demands of movement around the school or writing.

Myth #3: A student with a disability will have a full-time teacher's aide.

It is quite rare for a child to have a full time teachers' aide. As discussed in a previous post, teachers' aides are usually allocated to a child for a certain percentage of the week. It is then up to the Learning support team to determine when it is best to use that teacher's aide.

For example, if a child with a physical disability's main difficulty is increasing physical tiredness during the day, then the teacher's aide will most likely be used in the latter half of the day to support movement around playground, and scribe for the child in classes later in the day.

If a child with Autism struggles most with the social demands on the playground, then the teachers' aide will be used to support the child on the playground through extra supervision and possibly some structured games.

You might want to look at the NSW DET Students with Special Needs in Regular Classes: Funding Support document to find out more about how funding might be used to support children with disabilities at school.

So while teachers' aides are a valuable resource, we need to understand that these are some of the ways to best utilise this resource without expecting too much or too little from them.



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