[1973, revised 1985, 1993, 2003, 2013]
Growth of Noncertificated School Staff
By 1970 a number of circumstances had combined to put
pressure on boards to increase the number of educational assistants and extend
their functions in the schools.
Financial pressures encouraged boards to
provide clerical and special services in a manner thought to reduce
inefficiencies. Why pay higher-salaried teachers to take attendance, keep
records of book rentals and issue audiovisual equipment? These duties could be
assigned to other, less costly personnel.
The new financial avenue of federal Local
Initiatives Program grants and the general public attitude toward education
expenses also reflected a political force. Boards became concerned about
threats to sources of funding such as the growing resistance of taxpayers to
increases in property taxes. If parents could be encouraged to become more
involved in the schools through voluntary and other money-saving programs, then
the chances of boards for re-election and budget approval would improve. The
hue and cry for accountability in education could be answered at least
partially by a proliferation of volunteer projects, which would also give
parents a task to do. This reinforces the view of the classroom as a worksite
and helps the parent appreciate the overall complexity of the teaching process.
Involved parents usually will be supportive of the school program.
There was also a social pressure for
increased use of educational assistants. In a time of increasing leisure,
volunteer tasks become significant as a means of releasing energy and achieving
self-fulfillment. At precisely the time when the general population is becoming
better educated, the number of satisfying jobs being developed is not keeping
pace with the demand. Many citizens feel the need to give help in socially
acceptable projects; volunteer social projects are a means for an individual’s
participation in society.
These economic, political and social
forces combined to encourage boards to extend the possibilities for using
noncertificated volunteer and paid personnel in the schools. Boards hired not
only secretaries but media technicians, business managers, library technicians,
coaches and tutors. Volunteer tutors and supervisors were also added to the
list in increasing numbers. Although staffing the school with more adults was
intended to alleviate problems, the resulting push in educational assistants
staffing brought with it its own host of complex problems.
What Kind of Assistants DoTeachers Want?
We should not misinterpret the fact that teachers
themselves have asked for the provision of special services (technical,
clerical, supervisory) that teachers find themselves unable to perform in the
available time without sacrificing the teaching role. Teachers did not seek to
have their teaching duties taken over by “junior instructors.” Teachers believe
that every student is entitled to instruction from a highly qualified teacher.
While economic, political and social
pressures and the desire of teachers to render better service in the teaching
of students combined to produce an extensive and desirable use of educational
assistants, some boards have used assistants in ways beyond those that teachers
intended or can ethically accept. For instance, teachers did not expect
assistants to interfere in teacher–student interchanges nor to act as another
adult standing between the teacher and the student.
In at least two significant areas,
assistants are undertaking work that should be performed by teachers: library
and remedial services. When the situation called for teacher-librarians, some
boards responded by supplying library technicians. In many cases, boards
replaced teacher-librarians with library technicians. It was argued that, in
the absence of financial provision for a teacher-librarian, a library
technician was preferable to no library resource person at all. We must
remember, though, that the library technician is not qualified to perform the
same functions and cannot assume the responsibility of the teacher-librarian.
In the case of remedial services, when
teachers requested the help of specialists to provide help for students who
need highly skilled assistance with special learning difficulties, some boards
responded by assigning educational assistants. This did not resolve the
problem: the child did not receive the needed services and, because the teacher
cannot allow an unqualified person to perform professional tasks, the teacher
experienced no reduction in workload. In some circumstances, teachers have
experienced an increase in work responsibilities because the teacher
coordinates the work of assistants with students in the teacher’s care.
Defining Teaching Tasks
Part of the complexity of the educational assistants
issue involves the nature of the teaching task. Before the advent of so many
noncertificated adults in the schools, it was fairly easy to define teaching
tasks as “...all those professional
tasks encountered by teachers in the course of their activities concerned with
the instruction of pupils. Included would be the actual conducting of classes
and presenting of lessons, the preparation of lessons, requisitioning of
audiovisual and other materials and equipment, evaluation of student progress
and maintenance of such classroom order as is necessary to promote a healthy
learning climate. Implied, as well, is a teacher’s duty to carry out such
general pupil supervision as is required by law, by regulation or by agreement,
to assist to a reasonable extent with the extracurricular or cocurricular
program agreed to by the staff, to cooperate with other teachers in the best
interests of students and, generally, to act as an enthusiastic member of the
school’s educational team.” (Source: Teachers’ Rights, Responsibilities and
Legal Liabilities, ATA 1978, 11)
Educational assistants make it possible to
transfer the execution of some of these duties from the teacher and, although
the responsibility may be retained, the teacher does not in all cases perform
the tasks; instead, an assistant responsible to the teacher performs them. The
fact that some duties have been taken over by educational assistants has
contributed to role confusion in the mind of the public and, even among
assistants and some teachers, many wonder what the duties of the teacher are
and how the teacher is really different from the volunteer or paid assistant.
What a teacher does
Teachers are hired to perform professional service in
certain areas regarded as teaching areas, with teaching defined as in
Association policy and by statute. Most teaching activities involve the pupil
directly with the teacher whether through lecture, leadership of classroom
activity, direction of small groups or one-to-one contact. In addition there is
much pre- and postclass activity on curriculum development and adaptation,
evaluation and teaching strategies.
Core of the professional task
Without denying such aspects as motivating students,
supervision, curriculum development and management of classroom resources, four
aspects of the teaching function should be stressed: diagnosis of students’
learning needs, prescription for those needs, implementing educational program,
and evaluation of student, program and self. These four areas are the core of
the professional task. The teacher is not only totally responsible for these
activities but also, in large measure, must execute them. These tasks are
defined by statute.
In order to acquire the information for
making decisions about a student’s educational well-being, a teacher must
interact extensively with the student so that in no case could a teacher allow
extensive instruction to be done by others such as assistants or even other
teachers and still retain an ethical authority for making decisions about the
student’s well-being. Counsellors do not recommend for clients whom they do not
interview; doctors do not prescribe for patients whom they have not examined.
Neither can a teacher passively accept responsibility for students the teacher
has not taught.
The intent of any modification in staff utilization
must be the ultimate improvement of the educational program to the benefit of
the student. The focal value of formal education is based on the quality of the
direct interaction of teacher and students. Any innovation that serves to
remove the teacher further from this direct interaction with the students
inevitably leads to the debasement of the quality of education.
Delegating Tasks to Assistants
At all times the teacher is responsible for the
educational program and must perform the professional duties associated with
that program. Nonprofessional tasks may be delegated to assistants and an
assistant might at times perform a demonstration role, comment on slides or
talk to students about some topic in which the assistant has special knowledge.
That is, the assistant might at times take a role in the instructional
component of education. But the assistant would do so under the direction of
and in conjunction with the teacher in the same way as a teacher brings in a
guest speaker from the community. The assistant would not diagnose, prescribe
or evaluate with regard to the students, because these are teaching tasks
defined by statute. And a teacher utilizing an assistant for the instructional
component must be mindful of the teacher’s need for a database for diagnosis,
prescription and evaluation. The teacher must, in order to achieve the
interaction with students necessary for getting the data for proper educational
decisions, carry out the major share of instruction in person.
Assistants may play roles in other aspects
of the teaching function. Both paid and volunteer assistants can assist in
motivating students. Assistants employed as instructional assistants, although
capable of performing occasional instruction as described above, could find their
primary duty in assisting to develop curriculum materials, especially when
making learning packages for individualized instruction. Such assistants will
have a specific area of expertise. There is also a role for assistants in
supervision, but this role seems limited by legal liability requirements to
maintain the standard of care of a certificated teacher employed as a teacher.
Assistants can assist in management of classroom and school resources of all
types including texts, library materials and audiovisual equipment.
In all cases the role of assistants should
be to assist the quality of teacher–student interaction by removing clerical,
technical and supervisory barriers to this interaction. If assistants fulfill
this role, the teacher is released for more contact with colleagues, parents
and students (individually and in small groups), thereby improving the amount
and quality of teacher-to-teacher, teacher-to-parent and teacher-to-student