Monday, April 2, 2012

Teacher Aides in schools.--an underpayed resource!

Teacher Aides in school--- what would we do without them?
There is a group of hard-working underpaid professionals who work in our schools that the public (and some teachers) do not fully appreciate. I would go as far as saying that school could not operate without them. This special group are of course our wonderful teacher aides. They work tirelessly to help students achieve better outcomes, sometimes being the difference between a young person staying in school or leaving, to face a very uncertain future.
Every year we seem to be receiving students from intermediate schools who have had a very unstable deficit ridden educational and social preparation. Many of them have diagnosable ‘labels’ and are totally unprepared for the challenges of a large secondary school. These students may have had teacher aides in primary school, but the transition to secondary school may see a gap where they can get lost. Funding is not always carried over into the new setting. (That is a mission in itself). The special work that the teacher aides have done with these students may not continue.
What is it that teacher aides do? They support the teacher and may do this with a small group of students or on a one –to-one basis. Some students come to schools with special funding already attached. That may come from the Ministry of Education or other sources, depending on the nature of the student’s issues. There are students who have been ‘mainstreamed,’ who have multiple issues and this is where a teacher aide can make the difference between a teacher being able to ‘teach,’ or conduct some sort of ‘holding regime’---- where little teaching can take place.
Even with the teacher aide in class, the nature of some of the presenting issues makes teaching incredibly difficult. For every student who has a teacher aid ‘attached,’ there could well be several more in the classroom who would equally qualify for this valuable resource, but the processes involved and the ‘goal posts,’  can be a minefield.
Many schools utilize their TA’s in an efficient manner, where the whole class can benefit from the presence of an energetic TA. What I have noticed is the depth of experience TAs bring into the classroom. They are practical, empathetic and skilled in the way they relate to the students. They are able to manage difficult and needy students, so that the teacher can get on with their key responsibility--- that is, to teach the class. Some TAs go well beyond their duty and are able to contribute to the learning experience for their charges in ways that teachers just don’t have the time to do.
How does the system reward (read, pay) these skilled TAs? The simple answer---- not enough. Most are paid at an hourly rate and that is not much more than the 'minimum wage, depending on the school, experience and any added qualification they may have. Even if they are paid at a ‘better rate’ they still fall well short of a reasonable wage because they will be stretching to get more than 20 hours per week. The implications are that it would be hard, trying to find a TA who is working in that role as a career, without having a significant other to boost household income. Imagine being single, working in a TA role and depending on that money alone. There would have to be a top-up in the form of ‘Family Support payments for them to make ends meet.
We need our TAs in schools, but until we pay them better, like a real salary with steps built in for experience, responsibility and added qualifications, we are doing them a disservice.
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