Teaching assistants are an enormous help both inside and outside the classroom.
With another set of eyes in class, things often run more smoothly while having some extra input can make lesson plans and worksheets even better.
Here are some things teaching assistants can do to maximize their usefulness.
How to Be a Super TA
Inside The Classroom
Helping with classroom management during lessons is the most important role of a teaching assistant. When the teacher is busy working with a student, you – the assistant - should answer questions other students have, assist students with their work, and give feedback or encouragement when needed. While the teacher is giving instructions or lecturing, you can help maintain order by breaking up student conversations and minimizing distractions. You can also help when students form groups or move desks in between activities to shorten the amount of time these things take and thus ensure that students have more time to practice English. With a teaching assistant in the classroom, the primary instructor will not have to disrupt the flow of the lesson by trying to be in two places at once.
How They See You
It can be difficult to establish a good rapport with students. Some students may not respect teaching assistants because they are not “real” teachers in their eyes, or because TAs’ perceived or actual power is minimal. At the same time, you are in an excellent position to assist students who are struggling because you have more time to monitor them. For instance, the class clown who sits at the very back of the room and consistently interrupts may have little interest in the lesson, difficulty understanding the material, or just want some attention. Whatever the case may be, you can help by working with him one on one to keep him focused, answer questions, and obviously fulfill the need for attention without being disruptive to the rest of class. The student may still be reluctant to focus on the lesson material but will appreciate the teaching assistant’s attentiveness and the rest of the class will benefit by having the undivided and uninterrupted attention of the teacher. How students see you and your role in the classroom depends heavily on how you are treated by the teacher you assist. It is beneficial to talk about your responsibilities during particular lessons before heading into the classroom and to develop strong respectful working relationships with teachers.
Outside The Classroom
Depending on the teacher, a teaching assistant may be responsible for any number of tasks outside the classroom. Teaching assistants are commonly asked to mark papers and grade exams. You may be asked to create and edit worksheets, handouts, and exams and will most likely have to make copies of these items. You are free to express your ideas about lessons but they will not always be taken into consideration. The extent to which you are involved in any and all activities depends on who you are assisting and may vary from teacher to teacher within the same school. Remember that you are a teaching assistant and not a personal assistant so that you can remind your teachers of that if required.
In an environment that encourages team teaching, you as a teaching assistant may, on occasion, have the opportunity to plan activities or entire lessons. This is especially common if you are a native English speaker teaching abroad with a non-native English speaker. In this situation, your activities should focus on pronunciation and speaking while your lesson plans should revolve around cultural topics such as holidays. When you are teaching, do not expect a full role reversal. While it would be nice for the other teacher to assist you, that is not always how things work out so you should be prepared to do everything on your own just in case.
Every teacher should be lucky enough to have a teaching assistant.
If the teacher you work with is not used to having an assistant it might take a while for him to get used to having your help. You should feel free to offer your thoughts and services if you feel that you are not being given enough tasks. It may simply take a little while to adjust to having a helping hand. Assisting others can give you some great experience in a classroom and help you form teaching methods of your own. Being a teaching assistant is an excellent learning experience whether you admire the work of your teacher(s) or not.
Have you even worked as a Teaching Assistant? What was it like? Please tell us!
Tara Arntsen has worked with English Language Learners of all ages for many years and has taught in Japan, Cambodia, and China as well as online. When she is not teaching, she enjoys cooking, traveling around the world, and scuba diving. She is a member of the Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi and is currently pursuing an M.A. in Teaching-TESOL at the University of Southern California.
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