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What do teacher assistants do? Here's what...

First - not every student learned the subject material, graduated from high school, and most did not go on to graduate college back in the "olden" days. I began elementary school in 1959 and it is very true that classrooms were a lot different then. We sat in rows and any mischief was met with dire consequences at school and then again when you got home. My Mom was home waiting for me every afternoon to provide me with a snack, hear about my day, and help me with my reading and writing homework. My Dad would come home and help me with science and math. I didn't watch too much TV and when I did, we watched as a family. We ate every meal as a family. Life was very difference when I was a child.

Today's schools are data-driven with student-focused classrooms which include small group instruction, one-on-one interventions, and tutoring for those students who need help. The student population has changed dramatically especially in the last few years with more and more children being diagnosed with autism and chronic illnesses. The economy's downward slide has impacted our students. We tend to think children don't worry about such things, but they definitely do; and when there is not enough money for the basic necessities of life, it becomes increasingly difficult to focus on learning, even at a young age.

The role of teacher assistants in our classrooms has evolved over the sixteen years I have been an assistant. I began as a one-on-one locally paid TA to help one mainstreamed EC child. The next year I became a state-paid classroom assistant working in fourth grade with three teachers. Mostly my job was clerical and supervisory during those first years. I became a technology teacher assistant as the computer curriculum took off and the future because the present! I am NCLB Highly Qualified and have a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Georgia. I have my North Carolina Association of Teacher Assistants baccalaureate certificate which requires continuing professional development. During this year alone I have earned 27 hours of continuing education. I now work part-time with the technology in my school and part time with small group strategy instruction and intervention in a four grade and fifth grade class. My teachers include me as part of the educational team. My administrators, both at the school and central office, recognize the importance of what teacher assistants do.

I have a suggestion for you and for anyone who hasn't spent a day in an elementary school in a long time - visit and see for yourself. Or better yet, volunteer some time to help!

Melinda K. Zarate
NCATA Legislative Chair


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