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TEACHER'S AIDE COURSES: 18 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW

Teacher's Aide Courses: 18 Things You Need to Know

things to know as a teacher aide

Caption: Students enjoy being in class for various reasons such as the social aspect. Image of students in class (FTTA, Perth 2019).

Introduction

We get asked hundreds of questions every day – maybe thousands! In fact, our admin staff spend most of their day answering questions specifically related to teacher’s aide courses – it’s all we do! So, to help everyone out, we have done the research and put together 18 things that we think you should know before enrolling in a teacher’s aide course in Australia. These helpful hints will ensure that you know everything that you need to know, so you can enrol with the provider that best suits your needs.


What you will learn from reading this post:

  • What you need to know about teacher’s aide courses before you enrol
  • How to choose the best provider to meet your needs
  • Some tips on how to successfully complete your course

18. What the research says about teacher’s aides

To begin with we should briefly explain what teacher’s aide do in the real world - here is what some recent studies have concluded. You may read several definitions of what teacher’s aide do, such as on blogs or government websites. However, the research from field studies conducted overseas and in Australia, show that teacher’s aide often take on much more complex roles, and interesting, that role seems to be becoming even more complex and demanding.


A study in 2015, in Queensland Australia, found that teacher’s aide spend most of their time supporting students one on one or in small groups, as well as a limited amount of non-instructional work.


A New Zealand study concluded that the teacher’s aide role in providing support for students with disabilities in a classroom setting is pivotal in ‘disabled students' educational presence, participation and achievement.


A 2015 study published in the journal The Australian Association for Research in Education, stated that teacher’s aides work:

“with students one on one or in small groups to try to improve their academic outcomes, especially in the core subjects like reading and mathematics.“


A 2018 study conducted in the ACT, stated that teacher’s aides are primarily used to support students with disabilities:

“TAs are now employed to provide learning support in classrooms to enable students with disability and learning difficulties to access learning in mainstream schools… students with disability and learning difficulties are defined as students who receive additional resources to enable them to access classroom support, usually provided by a teacher’s aide.”


Another study from 2011 explained that:

“TAs have inadvertently become the ‘primary mechanism’ enabling students with disability and learning difficulties to attend mainstream schools…”


Howard and Ford (2007), concluded that teacher’s aide support students with more complex tasks such as :

“supporting students with disability and learning difficulties were responsible for planning, producing and adapting materials for one-on-one or small-group activities.”

17. Be clear about your goals

Before you enrol in a course, be clear about exactly what you want to achieve and think really careful about this (you should also involve any family members that your decisions will effect) – do you want a full-time contract or just a casual job 1 day per week? Do you want to work in primary schools, high schools, special needs schools, with a specific disability such as ASD, FAS or Dyslexia? Where exactly do you want to work and how far will you travel? Finally, think about why you are making this change – is it because you want family friendly working hours and school holidays? It is because you really enjoy working with children?


Having all of these questions answered in advance and in a very clear and precise way, will help you make a better and more informed decision about where to study, what mode, what your study routines will look like, what information you can give to your trainer and where you complete your placement (because many students find work where they do their placement). Also, your provider will be able to give you specific information that is relevant to you and your future goals.


Make a table like the example below and write down your goals:


GOAL

SPECIFIC GOAL

COMPLETION DATE

Goal 1

Enrol in a teacher’s aide course

January

Goal 2

Finish my course

September

Goal 3

Get contract work 2 days pw

Start looking in September 20XY

Goal 4

Personal goals can go here too

16. Choose your mode carefully

There are three modes. The first is distance mode – often called online, external etc. This is great for people that are in rural and regional areas, can’t make it to class or have other commitments. Distance is particularly useful for busy people who need flexible study arrangements – meaning you could study one week for 30 hours, but then are ridiculously busy the week after and can only study for 1 hour. About half of all students enrol in distance mode. Importantly, distance does not mean that you get less support – in fact the opposite may be true in many respects. Distance students (should) be contacted by their trainer (depending on your provider) on a regular basis.


Class-based can mean many things. If you enrol in a teacher’s aide course at TAFE, you may be in class for several days per week. This may not be suitable for everyone but can be fantastic for students who do not have other commitments, such as younger students. Generally speaking, young students tend to enrol in teacher’s aide courses at TAFE, while mature aged students choose private RTOs such as FTTA where attendance is 1 day per week. Classes are very beneficial for the additional face to face contact, social interaction and the ability to set aside time just for study and learning (without the distractions of kids running around for example).


Finally, there is RPL or Recognition of Prior Learning. This may be suitable if you have completed older versions of the course, have considerable experience and prior training. RPL is almost always for individuals who are employed in the role relevant to the qualification and have been working at the school for a very long period of time. It means that the candidate already has the skills and knowledge due to previous experience and learning. There are still assessments to complete with RPL however it doesn’t take anywhere near as long as a full qualification.


15. Not all providers are the same

school support officer training

Experienced, friendly and supportive trainers is essential for student success. Pictured FTTA class.

Even though two courses have the same title, that doesn’t mean they are the same. Providers make their own (or purchase) assessments and learning materials so two providers can have very different courses. It is important to think about the provider’s reputation (as you will use their certificate to try and get a job in the future), whether they visit you in the workplace for support and guidance, whether their admin team are based in Australia and are easy to deal with, and if in general you get a good feeling about the provider. Does the provider have an office where you can go and see them? Also, some providers specialise in certain types of students and courses such as adult learners (FTTA), younger learners (TAFE), and aboriginal students (Not For Profits in regional areas).


Fun fact: research shows that 68% of untrained teacher’s aides give students the answers – they are worried about task completion, not enforcing and developing an understanding of concepts. Only 11% of teachers gave the answers in comparison. It is important that you get the best teacher's aide training and learn to avoid these types of issues and maximise your performance in the workplace.

14. Everyone is in the same boat

Try not to stress! Many students are really worried about studying, whether they can write good enough answers and whether the course is going to be too hard for them. In fact, if this is you, then you are in the majority not the minority – some students haven’t finished year 8, some are still learning to speak English, and some have never walked into a classroom for many years. The whole point of a course is to learn and develop your skills and knowledge – if we were all experts from birth then these courses wouldn’t even exist in the first place. Many students are worried about things such as:

  • I can’t write sentences very well
  • I don’t know how to study
  • It’s been so long since I was in class or went to school
  • Everyone will laugh at me
  • I can’t remember anything once I read it

This is very common and the reason why you need to ensure that the RTO you enrol with is supportive and has suitable support structures and processes in place to meet your needs.

13. There are two courses to choose from

One of the most common questions that we get is about the difference between the two courses: CHC30213 Certificate III in Education Support and CHC40213 Certificate IV in Education Support. In simple terms, the CHC30213 Certificate III in Education Support is the entry-level course and covers all of the basics including literacy and numeracy. It gives you a good foundation to go onto higher level courses afterwards. This course has some but not a huge amount of content regarding disabilities – most of the course is for working with non-disabled or mainstream students.


The CHC40213 Certificate IV in Education Support on the other hand prepares students to work in schools with children with disabilities. This course covers the same type of content as the previous course but with the extra challenge of supporting students with disabilities. Some of the units in this course are exactly the same as the units in the lower level course. We recommend completing both courses where possible or go straight into the higher level course so that you are as highly qualified as possible.

12. Think about your placement now

As part of your course, you are required to complete a placement. The minimum number of logged hours that you must achieve is 100 (in a registered school) – this is a requirement set down by the government. Many students finish their theory assessments, or most of it, but then have a delay before starting their placement. For example, think about if you finish your theory assessments in October – it is likely that you won’t be able to start your placement until February (maybe March) and even then, schools are not that receptive of students and providers asking about placement late in the year (everyone is tired, not thinking about the following year – some teachers and school managers won’t be in the same school or will retire).


It is critically important that you think carefully about where you go for your placement. This is for several reasons; the main reason being that you will probably end up getting work where you complete your placement – most students start with relief or casual work and then get a contract or permanent employment when a position opens up. Also, the ‘better’ schools are always full of other students such as trainee teachers from universities. Because of this, you will need to get in as early as possible and show that you are organised and prepared.


teacher aide in a placement

Start thinking about your placement – a critical part of your course and where many students find work.

11. Get organised and have a routine

It is vital to have a solid routine from the beginning. Many adult learners don’t have well developed study skills (something we spend a lot of time instilling in our students). Some students take the ‘study when I am free approach’, however this can sometimes translate to only a few minutes per week – an hour at the most. It is important to think about what time you have, what sacrifices you can make, what sacrifices you are willing to make and for how long you intend on studying.


If you intend on completing your course in 12 months, you will need to complete {insert number of hours relevant to you here} hours per week/month. To achieve this, obviously it goes without saying that you will need a regular routine (or at least as regular as possible). Get creative with your routine – wake up 15 minutes early and read a few pages, have someone babysit for one day per week, read your learner guide for 10 minutes every time you go to the toilet etc.


teacher assistant planning a learning activity

Studying can be a collaborative effort. Students at FTTA pictured.

10. Time and duration depends on your abilities

Our courses are approximately 600 hours, however that time can vary from individual to individual considerably. Think for example about a person who has raised 3 children, worked in child care or aged care or another caring-type industry, as well as had several part time jobs in the past. They may have even completed a course or two over the years. That person has many skills that are transferrable such as team work, following routines and processes etc.


These skills are the basis of all courses that are people-orientated. So what does that mean? It means that some aspects of your course will take less time than expected. It could also mean that other aspects may take longer if you have no experience or previous training. Students should spend time discussing their needs with their trainers; enrol in an accelerated program for example, or if time poor, ensure your trainers know that you will do less but plan on being consistent over a long period of time.

9. You MUST like people especially children

Okay so you may be thinking ‘who would enrol and complete a teacher aide course if they don’t like kids…what the!” and the answer is – more than you would think. Some people really want those school holidays and some people enrol because someone else strongly suggested and maybe paid for their course. Sometimes people just do what they know, instead of what they enjoy, and if they have raised children, they may believe that is the easy road. We strongly don’t recommend this line of work if you don’t enjoy working with kids – think of it like this – would you own a gym if you hated working out?


This is a very people-orientated business. You will be surrounded by large numbers of people from all walks of life all day – including recess and lunch – there is NO ‘my time’ when it comes to working in a school.

8. You do not need to be a subject expert in maths or English

Some of our students are get worried about working in schools because they are not that confident at maths, science or English. Obviously, you should learn as much as you can and get better at your job when the opportunity arises (don’t just let the kids have all the fun – you should be actively learning and practicing in class as well). But you don’t need to be an expert, you don’t need to be a ‘maths teacher’ or ‘English professor’ and you’re not expected to be – that is the teacher’s job. However, as you are helping students on a one-on-one basis, you will need to ensure that you have a certain level of understanding. This can for example mean that you have carefully read the textbooks, short story and/or asked the teacher a question of two. Remember: there is nothing wrong with saying to a student ‘sorry I am not sure of the answer, let me quickly find out.’

7. High schools should not be ignored

Most, in fact the great majority, of trainee teacher's aides, come into the course with the view to work in kindergarten or lower grades – helping with phonics, cutting up fruit etc. Some teacher’s aides do indeed do that work, but they are a minority. Teacher’s aides work from k-12 (students with disabilities are not only in lower primary), in special needs centres and in a range of other programs. You may even find that working in lower years gets a bit boring after a while.


We (including myself being a former high school teacher), always recommend that you consider high schools as a possible avenue for employment. Why? Fewer people apply for work in high schools and there are similar numbers of teacher’s aides in most cases. You will also get more responsibility, be able to learn more and be exposed to various programs and classrooms.

6. You need to put in the time

Learning anything new isn’t easy and it certainly isn’t quick in most cases. Studying a nationally recognised qualification is no exception. It takes dedication, time, commitment, persistence and an ongoing willingness to push through the frustrations that come with studying and learning anything new. The best advice we can give, having supported thousands of students enrolled in our teacher’s aide courses, is to take your time – relax – enjoy it – don’t think of your course as a punishment – but a pleasure and a privilege. This will make spending time on the course much more enjoyable, rewarding and easier.


studying to become a teacher aide

A picture of dedication – set goals and work hard to achieve them! Pictured FTTA students.

5. The cheaper course may cost you more – a lot more

You may be tempted to enrol with the cheapest provider you can find because you may be thinking that at the end of the day, a certificate is a certificate, right? This can’t be further from the truth. For starters, some providers charge additional fees for things like textbooks that aren’t advertised. They may even charge for you to do a placement or for additional help.


Thirdly, like anything, quality is important, and you should invest in a good provider, because after all, you are investing in your own future.


Think carefully about who you enrol with and don’t be afraid to ask questions. You are investing a huge amount of time, effort and money – so choose a provider that suits your needs and that you get a good feeling about. After all, you will be working with them for a long time.

4. Teacher aides are called different things and take on many different roles

We use the term Teacher’s Aide simply because, well to be frank, so does everyone else. By everyone else, we mean the general public. Interestingly however, for many people in the industry, the title teacher’s aide is considered a little derogatory (such as in WA where education assistant is preferred). There are also different names for teacher’s aides depending where you live: in South Australia you will be called an SSO for example. The table below shows the different names in Australia and overseas:


Teacher’s aide:

Used widely by the general community

Education Assistant:

Mainly in Western Australia

SSO:

School Support Officer – South Australia

Integration aide:

Used in Victoria

Learning enrichment aide:

Used in NSW especially for special needs roles

AIEO:

Aboriginal and Indigenous Education Officer

Paraprofessional or paraeducator:

Used in the US

3. Your course is only the beginning of your learning journey

Once you complete your course, you are only just beginning your journey to becoming a master of your trade. For example, we teach students ‘transformational learning’ skills, also known as reflective practice. This is a way to think consciously about how you do things, why you do things and what you could do to improve; it helps you to get better every day, so you don’t have to wait 20 years to be a master practitioner. You can also access a range of YouTube videos, professional development opportunities offered by the school or external providers and online training through the department. When you finish your course, you are considered to be a graduate teacher’s aide – meaning you know the bare minimum to start working (and learning) in the educational environment.


the learning journey as a teacher aide

Once you finish your course, continue learning by attending PDs and self-directed learning.

2. Questions you should ask before enrolling

We’ve said this a few times above, but it is important, because enrolling in any course is a very important decision – enrol with the wrong provider and you may be put off studying forever. Enrol with the right provider and you may enjoy it so much that you spend a lifetime contributing to the school community and helping thousands of children to develop their skills and knowledge. Ask about placement, ask about face to face support, ask about the curriculum – who developed the learner guides – have your trainers spent time developing the learner guides? What is their completion rate? What if I have issues and need a trainer to come and see me in the workplace for a meeting? What if I have financial problems? Make sure that you think about the whole picture, not just the cost, and ask all the questions that you feel like you need to ask.

1. What you can expect from your course:

Many students ask about what to expect in their course – here is a few pages from our leaner guide:


Example 1: Introduction to numeracy support


This chapter explores the delivery and learning of mathematics in Australian classrooms. Many people are scared of maths and you may have heard people saying things like ‘I don’t do maths’ or ‘I was always bad at maths’. It is important to dispel this negative belief before beginning to work with children who are undertaking math activities as that opinion can rub-off on children. Think of maths like learning a language – the only way to learn is to slowly, incrementally and purposefully acquire new skills and knowledge over an extended period of time.


Consider the following: You use maths every day and in fact are very good at implementing a range of mathematical strategies in your daily life. Imagine that you purchased a coffee and didn’t look at the price. If you gave the cashier $20 you would expect approximately $15 as well as small change. If you were given $10 and change, you would know that something was wrong. You have just used estimation, addition and subtraction. A more complex version of this situation is when you purchase 50 or so items at a supermarket and then say that ‘it was more expensive than I thought’. You have made an estimation of what these 50 items are worth individually ($4 on average for example) and multiplied that by 50 (giving $200 total). If the price was $300, you might check that some items weren’t scanned twice or marked incorrectly. You would probably also check the more expensive items as you know that a small percentage change in the cost of an expensive item has a greater effect than even a large percentage change in the cost of a cheap item.


Interesting! Recently there has been a lot of concern about ‘Big Data’ and how data can be used nefariously (in bad ways). But how can big data be used? Think for example about a supermarket that tracks your purchases via your rewards card. They can very easily determine if you have young children, how many, what age and even their gender. They can then track what days and time that you (and others who have children) typically go shopping and the types of items that you are more likely to purchase.


It is important to note that this chapter does not aim to teach you any mathematical skills even though some basic concepts are explored. This chapter will provide you with a range of options for deciding on the best strategies to utilise in order to best serve the needs of you clients. As an education assistant, your clients are your students. If you feel that you need to improve your numeracy skills, there are a range of strategies that can be considered such as watching online videos, practice, reading articles and websites and purchasing textbooks. One really useful strategy is to buy year 1 or 2 maths books and to then ensure that you know everything in the book (terminology, calculations etc.). Then you can move to the next year. This ensures that you cover all of the basics.


As with any subject area, numeracy is most effectively delivered by creating a positive and supportive learning environment. This includes:

  • Setting high expectations and challenging goals
  • Integrating what students know with what they are learning – making connections
  • Monitoring student progress and providing feedback that leads to improvement
  • Providing engaging, individualised support
  • Encourage students to develop a wide range of generic skills such as collaboration and negotiation

Example 2 – play based learning


Play is an essential part of children’s development. It forms a vital role in social, emotional and physical development. Through play children experience enjoyment and relaxation as well as learn about themselves and others. When children are relaxed and enjoy themselves, they have higher capabilities for learning and development. Benefits from free play or unstructured play include:

  • Assists the development of problem solving skills
  • Assists child understand and explore concepts
  • Assists in developing social skills
  • The development of positive self-concept and self esteem
  • Skills are developed through the use of repetition and practice

Physical Play - Involves large active movements and is physically exerting. This play helps maintain physical wellbeing and fitness as well as helps develop gross motor skills. Activities may include jumping, running, kicking, throwing, dancing etc.


Discovery play - Involves activities that encourage children to explore their environment and the resources available to them. Children undertake trial and error and cause and effect type activities. Discovery play can include activities such as gardening and exploring nature.


Creative Play - Allows children to express thoughts and feelings using a creative outlet. This can include painting, drawing, music, dance, creative writing, role play etc.


Manipulative Play - Hands and fingers are the main focus with manipulative play. Activities will assist in hand eye co-ordination and fine motor skills. Activities may include threading, cutting, play dough sand play etc. Manipulative activities may require more concentration than other types of play.


Social Play - Also known as interactive play, social play happens when two or more children are playing together. Interaction encourages the development of social skills such as sharing, turn taking, listening to others, conversing and showing empathy.


Imaginative play - This type of play includes games such as pretend play and role playing which allows the child to experience life from another person’s perspective.


Imaginative play using objects - The child uses small props like stuffed animals to play. Children can explore a wide range of ideas and concepts.


Dramatic play - Once a child has reached a certain level of cognitive development, they are able to use objects as props for pretend play. Children substitute a real object in place of another one available to them for example using a hair brush as a microphone.


Noisy and quiet play - Noisy play may include activities such as physical games, dancing or construction. Quite games include more passive activities such as reading, puzzles or drawing and painting.


Structured play - When activities are organised by an adult. The activities, resources, time limits, rules etc. are not determined by the child. This may include activities such as storytelling, dancing, music, drama, board games and modified sports such as Auskick (junior football).


Unstructured play - When a child is involved in play that is not planned, has no structure and is based on what the child is interested in at that time. Free play enables them to use and develop their imagination. Free play may include activities such as creative play, imaginative games such as dress-ups and exploring.


Example 3: Reading support


Reading is not a natural process. It is the interpretation of a system of symbols to make meaning.


It is widely accepted that we generally don’t read each individual letter in a word. We see parts of words and whole words as one symbol. We even skip entire words in some cases.


Reading is best taught using a combination of the following strategies:

  • Auditory training – hearing sounds over and over again
  • Phonics – knowledge of letters and sounds
  • Whole Language – whole sentences and texts
  • Spelling – learning the accepted spelling of common words as well as patterns

Phonics

Phonics is a method of teaching students how to read. Phonics is normally used in the first few years of schooling and is the foundation for success in reading. Students begin by practicing how to read and say individual sounds such as those listed below. They then learn how to ‘sound out’ words by breaking the word into each sound.

  • Consonants - b, c, d, f, g, h, j, k, l, m, n, p, q, r, s, t, v, w, x, y, z
  • Blended sounds - br, cr, dr, fr, gr, pr, tr, wr, bl, cl, fl, gl , pl, sl, scr, str, sm, sn, sp, sc, sk
  • Short vowel sounds - a, e, i, o, u
  • Digraph sounds - sh, ch, th, wh
  • Double vowel sounds - ai, ea, ee, oa
  • Other double vowel sounds - oi, oo, ow
  • Silent letters – such as silent e, k, m, p
  • R controlled vowel sounds - ar, er, ir, or, ur

Phonics is a series of rules that students have to learn and apply when they are sounding out new words. Students are taught a rule and then they practice reading words that follow that rule. Students need to learn the letter sounds to an automatic level. This means that they need to be able to see the letter(s) and then say the sound immediately.


Whole language teaching


Teachers and education assistants use connected print (whole words/texts such as a poem or lyrics as opposed to sounds and letters) to introduce reading to students. Students are encouraged to memorise words as whole units. They use hands-on activities such as writing in journals and analysing words in context by using pictures for meaning (such as connecting a word to a picture).


Whole language teaching has strengths in that students begin to read and write early. They are involved in connected print and are using personal language skills which make the process of reading more interesting. The weakness of the whole language method is that some students never get a full phonic foundation and struggle to decode unfamiliar words. Good readers always use phonics to decipher new words.


In ALL cases, people learn to read and write by using a combination of whole language and phonetic skills.


Common issues

Students who struggle in reading often memorise phonic rules but don’t progress to recognising the sounds automatically. They are then unable to apply phonic rules to connected print (whole words and sentences) with any flow. To remedy this problem, two things must happen:

  • Phonic rules should be taught in the least complicated manner possible. For example, in teaching vowel sounds, it is distracting to talk about “short versus long” vowels.
  • Phonics must be taught in a way that allows students to immediately practice phonic information in real texts such as stories. The text should be interesting for the student. Every time a student is taught new phonic information, they should be given a short reading selection that highlights the phonic rule.

Summary

In summary, you should not be enrolling in a course without doing your research first and asking a tonne of questions. You should also not choose a teacher’s aide course based solely on cost – cheaper courses may not be cheaper in the long run and could mean you miss out on work – costing you thousands. The mode that you choose is also a decision that should not be taken lightly. Once enrolled, you will need to be dedicated and have a good routine and study plan - that also has some flexibility. Finally sit back and enjoy your course and don’t think of it as a punishment – but as a privilege that very few people in the world get to enjoy.


About the author

Adam Green is a former teacher, member of the government’s Education Support Industry Advisory Group, MD at FTTA, and a post-graduate researcher at Murdoch university.


Disclaimer: Information provided in this article is general, may not be relevant to you, is not legal advice and no guarantee of accuracy is provided. Users should seek expert advice before relying on any information provided in this article.

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