Job Title: Teacher Assistant
Type of Company: I work for a pre-school that all kinds of children into a learning and playful environment.
Education: BS, Management, Bentley College
Previous Experience: I was a substitute teacher.
Job Tasks: In my position, I assist the pre-school classroom teacher with all aspects of running the classroom. A typical day consists of taking the children off the bus or from their cars and bringing them into the school. We help them take off their coats and put their snacks in a basket for later. We then engage in free play with them for about 20 minutes, easing them into the classroom and getting them comfortable. We play a clean-up song and make sure the children participate in cleaning up the toys they took out. We then bring them into a circle for a few general lessons. In circle time, we sing hello to each child and give them a chance to say their name. Then we discuss general topics such as the calendar and weather for the day. Each week, every child has a job and it is at circle that all those jobs are completed. We have a pair of children figure out the date by counting and two children dress a weather bear according to the outdoor conditions. We have two children carry the snack basket to the table for later and at least 2-3 children pick songs to sing. We also have show-and-tell time where several kids get to share something special they brought in from home.
After circle time, we break into three groups or "centers" and do activities with the children. One center is usually something to get them moving: a trampoline or jumping activity, for example. One center involves sitting and may be reviewing a story with puppets, and a third center involves things like cutting, writing, etc. After the children have rotated through all three centers, we have a bathroom break and wash hands. This is followed by snack time, then outdoor recess (if the weather permits) or an indoor version with activities they can pick from. After recess, we come into a closing circle, sing a few good-bye songs and then dismiss the kids for the day.
My main responsibilities are keeping the children safe in all activities, keeping them involved and directing them to where they need to be. Some children require one-on-one assistance with such activities like cutting, so we work hand-over-hand helping them with the task.
Best and Worst Parts of the Job: The best part of the job is the relationship we acquire with the children by working so closely with them day after day. We get very attached and personally vested in helping the children in every way possible. Many of the children have special needs and it is very rewarding seeing the improvements in their skills after working with them to acquire certain tasks. It is also so rewarding working with a professional staff that gels so well together. Every day, all the tasks get accomplished by each of the teacher team members pitching in in a group effort.
The worst part of the job is realizing that, even when doing everything possible, a child isn't flourishing. It is difficult to see a child that wants to participate but is limited by either physical or physiological disadvantages. Sometimes, certain conditions are insurmountable in an educational setting and the child has to be relocated to a more controlled environment with more specially trained professionals. At times like that, you feel inadequate and sad that your efforts could not be of help to these children.
Another difficult part of the job is the toilet training that many of these children require. It takes a lot of effort and daily practice to get many of these children trained by the end of the school year. Many of them are still in diapers and changing 6-8 diapers in a row can be tedious.
Job Tips: I suggest taking courses, or at least attending seminars, on special-needs children. These are helpful in dealing with situations such as autism or PDD that you face in many of these pre-school classrooms. It is also helpful to take a first aid or CPR class in case anyone is injured. Any classes or seminars in understanding children's behavior and in restraint training are helpful (and in many cases, required).
I also think it is helpful to have had prior experience with children in a classroom setting, if not a degree in early education. Having children of your own, though not required, is an asset, as it definitely makes you see children in a different light and appreciate their quirks as well as understand their behaviors.
A great way to gain some exposure to a pre-school classroom is to substitute prior to taking a full time position. You can see how classrooms run and how a typical day goes and also obtain ideas on better ways to orchestrate your own classroom.
Additional Thoughts: I am most surprised as to how rewarding and personally satisfying working with special needs and general population children is. I have seen personal growth in children who are struggling with learning difficulties and it is incredibly heartwarming. When a child that has not been able to say your name for a year suddenly, repeatedly calls you by name, it is such a joy to see and hear.
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