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Do you have a teacher assistant in your classroom this year? If you're lucky enough to have a TA, they can be one of your most valuable assets and your most supportive partners if you know how to best utilize their support. First and foremost, you need to establish the relationship in a way that allows you to be the leader inside your classroom with their assistance.
When I was a beginning teacher, I had a TA and one of the biggest mistakes that I made was not being super clear about how I wanted my TA to function in my classroom. This was difficult for me because I just wanted to be nice. I didn't want to seem like I was bossing her around, or telling her what to do. The possibility of micromanaging was super uncomfortable for me.
Even though I was okay with managing my students’ time, managing another adult’s time wasn't familiar to me because I had never done it before. (As if I needed more “firsts” early on in my teaching career!) I already had enough on my plate and I didn't want to think about how to manage her time in addition to my time.
To add to the challenges of having my first TA, she was a lot older than I was and had a lot more classroom experience than I did. So in some ways, she was really intimidating to me. I felt like she was constantly judging me when I messed up. It could have been in my head, but it seemed like she was always evaluating me and my teaching. I mean, to be clear, I was messing up a lot, but that’s because I was a brand new teacher! 😅
Since I wasn’t feeling confident in my abilities as a teacher, I would often defer to my TA when I needed to make decisions in my classroom. Sometimes that was helpful, but ultimately it made it more difficult for me to make decisions on my own and figure out my unique teaching style. Looking back, it led to a really uncomfortable working environment for everyone because I had given her a little bit too much power from the start.
As usual, I want you to learn from my mistakes and utilize your TA in a way that benefits everyone. It’s best if you can first sit down on your own and get really clear about how you want to use the incredible gift of someone else's classroom experience, and with children in general, before the school year even starts. However, it’s never too late to do this.
No matter what time of year it is, sitting down for a meeting with your teacher assistant can make a huge impact for the better. You can talk about the changes you would like to make and how you would like to start working together moving forward. This conversation might feel a little (okay, a lot) uncomfortable, but nothing is going to change unless you do it.
Having this honest talk with your TA will empower them and help you to determine how to best use their skills and talents. Plus, it will ensure that you maintain leadership inside your classroom. If you’re on board with this, but wondering what kinds of tasks to give your TA, I’ve got your back. In this episode, I’m going to share several roles that your TA can step into that will be good for them, you, and your students.
I hope this information is helpful as you prepare for your first, second, or third year of teaching. Until next time, remember, just because you're a beginning elementary teacher, there's no need for you to struggle like one.
Dr. Lori Friesen | Beginning Teacher Mentor
Creator of the R.E.A.D.Y. for School Academy, Dr. Lori Friesen has mentored thousands of beginning teachers across the country through her workshops and courses. Host of the popular podcast, Beginning Teacher Talk, and creator of the innovative literacy program for 1st and 2nd grade, Dogs Help Kids Read and Succeed, Dr. Lori is dedicated to serving educators and inspiring learners. Learn more at drlorifriesen.com and at howdogshelpkids.com.
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