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How to Work with Assistants & Other Adults in Your Classroom

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For busy teachers, classroom assistants can be a much-needed source of help. Learn how to maximize the effectiveness of your helpers for a smoother and more enjoyable classroom experience.

The Role of an Assistant

Teaching is generally thought of as a solo operation, but more schools have begun employing additional adults to help out in the classroom. The role of teacher assistant has grown in recent years and is expected to continue to grow. In fact, in 2014, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted these assistants would see a 6 percent growth over the following ten years. The BLS attributes the increased demand to a rise in student enrollment, which leads to larger class sizes and the need for additional support.

Teacher assistants (and other adults who may help out) provide plenty of valuable services. They help prepare lesson materials, enforce rules, and assist with other tasks, such as recordkeeping and attendance tracking. A good assistant can make a teacher's life much, much easier.

happy with assistant

Despite the many advantages a colleague can provide, there's also the possibility for conflict if you aren't on the same page.

Recognizing Potential Issues

The best way to resolve conflict is to prevent it from ever occurring. You can avoid a lot of your problems by keeping an eye out and nipping them in the bud before they become a real issue.

There's no one way to teach, and it's possible that your assistant may have a different philosophy when it comes to educating. While it's important to introduce your students to new ideas, you also need to be careful that you and your assistant are not teaching conflicting information.

There's also the very real possibility that your assistant will have differing views on classroom behavior, discipline, and other such matters. If you and your assistant are not consistent, students will be confused and your class may become disorganized.

Regardless of your assistant's views or attitude, you need to remain professional and present yourself as a model of how a teacher should act. Brush up on your conflict resolution skills and remember that at the end of the day, you're on the same side.

assistant, teacher, and student

Implement Clearly-Defined Objectives

One key method for avoiding problems is to eliminate ambiguity. When making requests of your assistant or preparing the classroom, offer detailed and specific instructions.

The training and skill level of your assistants will vary, so it's important that you don't assume too much. At the beginning of the day, clearly explain to your assistant what tasks they will be expected to accomplish and how you would like those tasks done. You may run the risk of sounding like a control freak, but it's better to err on the side of caution.

Ideally, an assistant should ask for clarification if he or she is unclear, but precise instructions will reduce the chances of miscommunication and misunderstanding.

Establish Authority

As the teacher, you are the boss in the classroom. By definition, an 'assistant' exists to help you, and, you need to make it clear that you are in charge.

This does not mean you need to be controlling, and you should be careful to avoid coming on too strong in this situation. It's important to assert yourself, but you shouldn't come across as a tyrant. Assistants are capable people with plenty of good ideas, and it is a mistake to ignore them or treat their opinions as irrelevant.

Encourage Independence

This may seem like a contradictory idea, but granting your assistant some degree of freedom can be extremely beneficial for both you and your students.

Start in small doses by allowing them to lead smaller projects or group discussions. Assistants are generally less experienced, and they will certainly benefit from the chance to take the lead. As their skills improve, you can gradually assign them tasks of greater significance.

assistant leading

Giving your assistant more control also gives you less to worry about. Instead of watching over their shoulder and constantly monitoring their progress, you can focus on your own teaching.

Communicate!

Every relationship in your life, from professional to personal ones, is founded on the ability to properly communicate and connect.

If you see a potential problem or realize that something is not working, do not hesitate to bring it up to your assistant. Remember, you're part of a team, and you don't have to go it alone. If your assistant has already noticed the situation, you can begin to work on a solution.

In addition to regular communication, you may benefit from a weekly progress meeting. Setting aside time to talk and check in can be a huge benefit, as you can confirm that things are going well and all parties are satisfied with the current arrangement. You can also use this time to discuss any complications that you may have noticed.

meeting

This meeting, and communication in general, provides the opportunity for your assistant to voice any concerns that he or she may have. It's important for your assistants to feel confident, and letting them speak their mind affirms their place in the classroom.

By using your aides wisely, you can reduce stress and save yourself considerable time.

By Bill Sands
January 2017
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