I am in my secondish year of teaching, and I really have no idea how to actually utilize an Educational Assistant (EA) in a way that benefits all the students and myself. I have had different EAs assigned to classes I teach while subbing I sometimes get subs. Every time I get a sub, the instructions are very similar, they work with student A or they know what to do. I think EAs are a teacher’s very own superhero. But when I come in as a new teacher, I still don’t know how to use them in a way that helps the students AND helps me.
I’ve had EAs that say a lot of the time they take care of the photocopying, scanning, all the extra prep that there never seems to be enough time for, and this is always very appreciated by teachers because it is one less thing on the endless to-do list.
When I was finishing my internship, I had a principal that I recognized from another school division say the best way to make full use of is to have them help the majority of students and for the classroom teacher work with those that need additional supports. At the time, this made no sense. How was I supposed to teach, monitor, and support ALL students if I only spent my time focusing on a few that need additional supports? Especially since my understanding has always been that EAs are assigned to support certain students. I brought this idea up to other teachers that I know, and they often have the same understanding as me. EAs are there to provide support, not to teach the content.
Today (January 25th, 2019), after almost 2 years of teaching, it has finally clicked. I was subbing in a classroom that has vast degrees of ability. Multiple students need direct support, but there are also quite a few that understand quickly and need to be challenged, mixed in with this is students in between. The whole class had the same spelling assignment, but different words depending on ability. So I explained the assignment, and the students who needed additional support worked with the EA at a separate table. I spent the class period circulating the class, helping students think of ideas for the assignment, answering questions that I had already explained but were missed. After about 5 minutes of this, it was like a lightbulb going off. Wouldn’t it be better if I spent this time with those students who needed extra support so that the additional teaching that gets naturally integrated into the one-on-one or small group teachings, is done by someone with the training to enhance the students learning?
This is NOT me saying that EAs are not extremely important, because in so many ways they’re the glue that holds teachers together. Educational Assistants are truly superheroes, but they have a specific set of skills that allow them to work with all students and provide help. Teachers are trained to help all students progress and learn. If we work with those who need the additional supports and allow the EAs to provide assistance as needed to the rest of the class, maybe our efforts would be more productive.
While this is not something I can change while I am subbing, and let’s be honest, EAs are the ones that know what is actually going on in the classroom compared to a daily sub so they should probably be the ones that work with students who need extra support in these situations. When I do get my next classroom and am planning the best way to utilize EAs, this is something I will keep in mind.