The image of Arnold Schwarzenegger yelling at children to “shut up” in the movie Kindergarten Cop may be what sticks in people’s heads when they envision optimal management of preschool children. The majority of teachers have probably wished they could employ such methods at one stage or another, but educational institutions might frown on it, and not being Arnold Schwarzenegger might reduce its effectiveness.
Still, they are part of a profession that has long been acknowledged as one of the highest-pressure and under-appreciated around. Educating the children of a nation is of the utmost priority, yet that doesn’t make it any cheaper for schools to hire and maintain the staff necessary to do so. So, in the process of carrying out this sacred duty, teachers find themselves faced with a workload their numbers can barely manage.
And so we get the rising importance of teachers’ aides. Teachers’ aides may have been around since the 1960’s, but the skill requirements have become more demanding along with its prominence. “Paraprofessional” is the term for those trained to aid professionals in various industries, and this includes assistants in education, health care and social welfare. Their services are essential in alleviating the strains of the professionals working in these industries, as well as providing organizations with a cost-effective means of increasing manpower.
What trained assistants offer over volunteers
Initially, it was volunteers, mainly parents, who took the role of assistants in school classrooms, whilst college students provided the same services to their professors in exchange for additional college credits. Volunteers still comprise a large portion of the assistant workforce in education, but in the past decade, the benefits of employing trained paraprofessionals have become increasingly evident.
For one, teachers’ aides often receive specialized training when it comes to educating special needs children. In fact, the increasing number of teachers’ aides has made it more viable for special needs students to be included in mainstream educational environments. It’s a big help to teachers to have someone they can assign to specific individuals or groups, while they continue to focus on the class as a whole. However, assistants must have some degree of training before teachers can trust them with such matters.
Another advantage is that trained teachers’ aides can help in the preparation of learning materials. They can even offer input to help teachers decide on the most appropriate teaching methods for each subject. Recruiters may even ask job applicants which teaching methods they deem most effective, whether it be text book learning, interactive methods, field trips, group projects or any other educational method. In college environments, teaching assistants can help professors plan the instructional materials for lectures and tutorials.
Add to these advantages the services that teachers are already accustomed to receiving from volunteer assistants, such as setting up classroom and playground environments, and supervising children in the teacher’s absence. They can even assume the teacher’s duties if he or she looks likely to remain absent for longer than expected.
Australia’s teachers need assistants
In Australia, the aged care and educational sectors suffer from a shortage of manpower. Health care assistants can provide much needed aid to the nurses caring for Australia’s rapidly growing aged population, while in the educational sector, as more teachers and professors approach retirement age, vacancies will open at a greater rate than they can be filled, and assistants will be required to help deal with the increasing workload.
Forty-one per cent of teachers in Australia report high levels of occupational stress, compared to 31% of people in nursing and 29% in managerial positions. It’s been reported that 25 – 40% of teachers leave the profession within five years of starting. Interviews conducted with former teachers reveal heavy workloads and poor support structures as their primary motivations for doing so.
Increasing the paraprofessional workforce can be of significant aid in addressing this issue, a fact which the Australian government has recognized. In May 2012, Queensland’s Premier and the Education Minister launched an AU$54 million initiative to increase the number of teachers’ aides’ positions in 600 Queensland State schools over the course of four years. This would result in a total 2,341 additional teachers’ aide hours per week.
According to Open Colleges, the rising demand for teachers’ aides is expected to continue for the next ten years at least. Those taking up the position will have an opportunity to play a vital role in the education of Australia’s youth, and many teachers’ aides cite the ability to interact with children and observe their growth and development as a benefit that makes the profession well worth pursuing.