What Duties Can Be Assigned to Educational Assistants?

The Association’s Code of Professional Conduct (reproduced in Appendix 4) defines the duties for which teachers are responsible. The code explicitly prohibits teachers from delegating those duties to nonteachers. At the same time, the code specifies that teachers may delegate “specific and limited aspects of instructional activity” to educational assistants, provided that teachers supervise and direct those activities.

School boards that assign educational assistants to tasks for which they are inadequately trained or unqualified not only place students in danger but risk being sued for malpractice on the grounds that students are being denied the right to be taught by qualified professional teachers.

Educational assistants who are assigned teaching duties should inform their own union or association and should protest any assignment that exceeds their training and experience. Even qualified teachers who are employed as educational assistants should be careful not to carry out tasks that fall outside the role for which they were hired.

Educational Needs of Students

In general, teachers should avoid asking educational assistants to undertake activities that require them to make professional judgments. For example, it would be inappropriate for a teacher to ask an assistant to plan a student’s educational program or to mark short-answer or essay questions that involve an element of interpretation. On the other hand, it would be appropriate for a teacher to ask an assistant to suggest (subject to the teacher’s approval) resources and exercises that might be suitable for a student; to mark tests and exercises that involve multiple-choice, fill-in-the-blank and other right-or-wrong kinds of questions; and to photocopy handouts, make displays and create other materials under the teacher’s direction.

The following scenarios illustrate the appropriate and inappropriate deployment of educational assistants.

Scenario 1: An educational assistant works with a teacher who is often called out of the class to attend to other duties. During their absences, the teacher delegates to the assistant the task of completing the lesson and helping the class work through planned exercises.

Analysis: Because assigning such duties contravenes the Education Act and the Code of Professional Conduct, it constitutes an inappropriate educational practice. Students are entitled to receive instruction from qualified personnel. Although teachers who must attend meetings or be away from the classroom briefly for some other reason may ask an assistant to supervise a class in their absence, they should not call on the assistant to provide more than limited instruction. If teachers must be away for longer periods than required for the class to complete an assignment under the supervision of an assistant, they should arrange for a properly qualified substitute teacher. Assistants are not substitute teachers.

Scenario 2: An educational assistant works with an individual student on a modified program of studies. The student’s parents want frequent progress reports. The assistant reports their observations of the student’s behaviour to the teacher who, in turn, interprets those behaviours and reports to the parents.

Analysis: The educational assistant is right in reporting to the teacher rather than to the parents directly. The teacher is responsible for consulting frequently with the assistant, incorporating the observations of the assistant into their own analysis of the student’s progress, diagnosing the student’s learning needs and discussing those needs with the parents. If the parents call the educational assistant directly, the assistant should refer them to the teacher.

Scenario 3: In discussions and e-mail messages, an educational assistant constantly refers to themselves as an education assistant. This term confuses the teachers in the school because they interpret it to mean that the assistant has duties in addition to those assigned by the teacher.
Analysis: The issue here is not the title by which the assistant refers to themselves but the fact that staff in the school seem unclear about the role of educational assistants and how it differs from that of teachers. The respective roles of teachers and educational assistants must be clearly defined and broadly understood.

Scenario 4: A parent phones an educational assistant at home, in the evening and on weekends, to seek information about their child’s behaviour and program and to give instructions on how the child is to be handled. Although the educational assistant accepts the calls, they resent the hours of unpaid time they spend on the telephone and feel that they are becoming an intermediary between the parent and the teacher.

Analysis: The educational assistant should tactfully but firmly ask the parent to direct their calls to the teacher. They should also ensure that school officials are aware of the situation and support their decision not to deal directly with the parent.

Health-Care Needs of Students

Many educational assistants work with students who have special medical concerns and need health-related care throughout the day. Teachers should develop careful plans detailing what needs to be done in routine and emergency situations and who is responsible for approving and for carrying out each action. The approval for delivering any health-related services, including medications to a student, must come from a health-care professional, not merely from the parents. In developing these plans, teachers should adhere scrupulously to school board policy. If the school board has no policy or if teachers are asked to attend to a student’s health-care needs in a way that violates school board policy, they should register a protest. Furthermore, if they are in a position of responsibility, they should insist that the situation be corrected. If they are not in a position of responsibility, they should distance themselves from the decision.

Duties of Teachers and Educational Assistants: A Summary

Duties of Teachers Joint Activities Duties of Educational Assistants and Advisory Personnel

Diagnosing

• diagnose learning needs

• discuss student abilities, strengths and weaknesses
• attend program-planning meetings (if the teacher requests that educational assistants be present)

• observe student behaviour and provide information to teachers

Prescribing

• prescribe solutions, choose from available alternatives
• prepare individual program plans (IPPs)
• maintain current student profiles and IPPs

• discuss desired outcomes for the student
• discuss educational, behavioural and emotional goals

• within the scope of their own professional qualifications, suggest possible courses of action for the teacher to follow and provide direct services such as speech therapy

Planning

• plan lesson activities and choose resources
• choose appropriate modifications to meet IPP specifications
• establish priorities

• prepare materials, including modifications to the curriculum
• provide advice on available resources

• assist in preparing materials, creating displays and undertaking other supportive activities

Disciplining

• establish a clearly understood classroom management structure, classroom rules and expectations for students

• meet regularly to discuss student progress
• discuss and clarify expectations for student discipline and classroom rules

• work within established structures, including classroom management structures, behavioural rules and IPP expectations

Teaching

• implement lesson plans and direct teaching related to those lesson plans
• supervise and facilitate student learning
• model techniques and appropriate language
• provide resources for the assistants

• clarify and share outcomes and experiences
• discuss specific strategies, activities and outcomes
• discuss workplace location

• clarify elements of the lesson for students who are having trouble
• supervise reinforcement activities
• implement specific techniques, strategies and language as directed by the teacher
• document, monitor and report to the teacher

Evaluating

•evaluate student progress
•ensure that students are adhering to the IPP

• discuss observations
• exchange information

• collect data for use in student evaluation
• mark objective tests for the teacher to review

Reporting

• report to parents both formally and informally

• discuss student information as appropriate
• maintain confidentiality

• report to teachers on students’ strengths, achievements and needs
• report to teachers on observed student behaviours and outcomes

Staying current

• keep up to date on school, district and provincial policies

• follow policies and guidelines

• keep up to date on school, district and provincial policies

Evaluating assistants

• evaluate professional and nonprofessional staff
• document and share concerns
• seek training for assistants as appropriate

• discuss strengths and concerns

• advise on training and other needs

Evaluating programs

• evaluate programs
• document and share concerns

• clarify program needs

• advise teachers about the degree to which the program structure promotes or inhibits the best use of the educational assistant’s skills


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