Assistant teacher course/Assistant teacher training

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Assistant teacher training

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Assistant teacher training
Activity: lecture, group work
Group size: more than 20
Preparation: test run
Instructors: 1
Duration: ?

Planning the training process

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New assistant teachers should pass through some kind of training.

  • Imagine how new assistant teachers
    • should be trained in class.
    • should be trained in an additional (voluntary) course.
    • should train themselves.
  • Imagine what could qualify new assistant teachers.

The answers are likely to contain references to this assistant teacher course but may also contain original ideas. The participants can, of course, reuse parts of the course for their own assistant teacher training. The goals and circumstances of a continual training and qualification process may, however, be somewhat different to those of this course. It is recommended that the assistant teachers keep their notes for the book project.

Planning the qualification process

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A qualification process is any kind of procedure that can formally turn an aspirant into an assistant teacher. It is likely that the teachers might want to have a veto or even select the candidates themselves and give the assistant teachers or pupils only an indirect way to recommend candidates. The pupils can try to recommend any procedure they like (as long as there is no school policy that overrides this statements) but they may have to accept it when their teachers reject their recommendation.

Teachers probably will want to influence the qualification process in some way.
How can you design your qualification process so that teachers feel they have sufficient control while the assistant teachers or pupils retain some control?

  • You can
    • make use of one or two qualification committees with teachers and pupils.
    • offer the teachers to specify required grade point averages.
    • offer the teachers a veto.
    • allow teachers and assistant teachers to nominate candidates.
  • What else can you do?

A good answer may again be a process designed to irritate in order to motivate the pupils to become active themselves. A very challenging grade point average criteria is one way to irritate. Delegating nominations to a (yet) non-existent committee of a school conference or student council can also be irritating, especially if there is no plan to create that committee.

The qualification process could assign a mentor to a novice assistant teacher who would guide his protégé through qualification and, possibly, a following probation period. During a probation period mentor and protégé would always be assigned to the same lessons, so that the mentor could keep an eye on his protégé. The psychological effect of a probation period is that the protégé receives additional motivation to adhere to the high standards of the new office during a period where this may still be unusual. In a school with a formal mentor office the mentor of the assistant teacher could be a qualified mentor from a much higher grade.

The assistant teacher role model

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Assistant teachers should be positive role models.

  • What skills do assistant teachers need to train to be good role models?
  • What behaviors do assistant teachers need to train to be good role models?
  • What traits do assistant teachers need to train to be good role models?

The questions may sound familiar but here we focus on the role model for pupils.

Now go back to the first section ("Planning the training process") and let the group imagine how assistant teachers should be trained. Does the group have new ideas? The role model for pupils is an important part of the office that may be easily disregarded, especially by young pupils. The role model should receive separate attention in the code of conduct and, possibly, in the criteria for disqualification of an assistant teacher.

Something pupils are likely to do is to complain to the teacher about other pupils. An assistant teacher who complains to the teacher about a pupil loses credibility. The message to the other pupils is that the assistant teacher is not in control and the only authority lies with the teacher, which is not the intended message. Consequently an important thing for assistant teachers to learn is to avoid falling into typical behavior patterns which are not appropriate for assistant teachers.

Which behavior patterns of pupils are inappropriate for assistant teachers?
How should assistant teachers try to act instead?

  • Can an assistant teacher
    • complain to the teacher about a pupil in front of the class?
    • talk to other pupils about matters that do not concern the lesson?
    • begin a dispute with an inattentive pupil in class?

What else should an assistant teacher avoid?

Instead of complaining an assistant teacher could try to show authority. An example is that an assistant teacher could call a pupil out of class with a gesture (assistant teacher gets up, points at the pupil and gestures towards the door). The silent communication with gestures is meant to minimize the interruption in the class room. The assistant teachers can reject dispute in the class room and make the pupils understand that dispute always happens outside the class, because an agitated pupil is unlikely to whisper. The teacher is likely to notice the incident and can confirm the authority of the assistant teacher by telling the pupil to leave the class, if necessary, or ignore the incident. Questioning the authority of the assistant teacher is not recommended; the incident can be discussed afterwards, if necessary. Teacher and assistant teacher are educators and should not question each other's authority without necessity.

What the assistant teacher can do outside class is to follow a conflict resolution strategy for parents:

  • Find out about the feelings of the child. (e.g. "Why are you so restive? Is anything wrong?")
  • Show sympathy or, at least, understanding for the feelings of the child. (e.g. "Tell me what happened. ...")
  • Explain your own position. (e.g. "If you disturb the lesson that's my problem because I'm responsible.")
  • Invite the child to participate in the search for solutions. (e.g. "Can you try to pay attention, do you want to read something in the back of the room or do you want to leave the class for the moment?")

The assistant teacher can also accompany the pupil to the schoolyard and further investigate why the pupil is uneasy.

Assistant teachers should try to avoid explicit references to the assistant teacher role model when talking to pupils. While it isn't a secret the explicit request to be accepted as a role model is much more likely to cause reactance. A role model is an offer to the pupils they can accept or reject but it isn't helpful to put inappropriate emphasis on the role model with explicit references.

Should an assistant teacher request a pupil to follow the assistant teacher role model (outside assistant teacher training)?

  • What do you think when an adult asks you to follow the example of another person?
  • What do you think when an adult does something uninteresting and asks you to follow his example?
  • What are the possible psychological effects if you put too much emphasis on something, even if it may seem to be a good idea?

Allowing new assistant teachers to separate from the original assistant teacher effort and to form their own group can also help to avoid reactance and other forms of rejection. This way new assistant teachers can both rebel against the established order of things and follow the assistant teacher role model as they choose to understand it.

Training exercises

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Assistant teachers need to find an appropriate level for interventions and appropriate methods. If a pupil was merely inattentive but not disturbing an assistant teacher could, for instance, decide to engage the pupil in a muted discussion of his homework or the current topic of the lesson. A pupil who was distracting his neighbors could be directed to the back of the room, possibly also for a muted discussion of his homework or the topic of the lesson.

ToDo: Assistant teachers should learn not to ask for the authority of the teacher. The assistant teacher has the authority to leave the class with a pupil, which should be enough. Provoking an intervention by the teacher should be considered a mistake of the assistant teacher.


Assistant teacher exercises 1
Assistant teacher exercises 2

Discuss the exercises and their applicability. To try out the exercises in the course the group should split into four groups, taking turns as assistant teachers.


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An important distinction between a pupil and an assistant teacher is that the teacher must be able to rely on the assistant teacher. An assistant teacher can engage during the lesson in muted discussions, except when explicitly asked not to. The teacher must be able to rely on the assistant teacher that the topic of the discussions is the subject of the lesson and almost never anything else.


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