Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate

I have decided that I will be posting this next to my door this year, followed by “…Unless you’re in Honors, then welcome.” Just to set the tone right. For those who don’t know, I teach Advanced Placement World History and Honors World History. I figure this will give us a moment of relaxation.

However, as for the coming year, it will be an interesting one. As with every other year and with every other teacher across the nation, we head into the darkness to find light and raise it high for all to see. We will also all be dealing with many new changes just as we always do. Changes to curriculum, changes to administration and with that, changes to policies and procedures, changes to job descriptions, changes to laws, changes to evaluations. I could go on.

With these changes, my school is also reeling from the effects of the budget cuts. One of the issues we ran into was what to do with so many students when we have to start cutting electives. Our limited schedule left far too many students (as young as sophomores), with holes in their schedules. Prep buyouts for electives to dump kids in that may never have even wanted the class can only go so far. To help offset this, teachers are all planning for what to do with too many student aides. At some schools you almost have to bribe your counselors to get one while we are all looking at having 2 or more.

Unfortunately most people may not realize how enormously useless a student aide can be. We would like them to do more but as rules, regulations and laws are written, there is little they are allowed to do. I’ve found that most people, and far too many teachers, don’t realize that these are students and not the dreaded TA we all cringed to deal with in college. They are not allowed to grade papers, even a simple multiple choice test, they can’t take attendance, enter grades or deal in any way with the private information of other students. We don’t trust them to operate copy machines, especially alone where they could goof off. They aren’t experts in our fields so pulling resources becomes more of a sad endeavor for both of us. They aren’t even allowed to run and get us lunch anymore. What’s the point of them having cars then.

With all of these provisions (I know, most teachers ignore them all) I have already heard many teachers questioning what they are going to do with their aides. Many are searching others out to see if there is some long lost storage closet to be reorganized in our long 5 year history. Some have even started wagering them in illegal underground poker games that we hold during school in the gym storage closet.

This got me to thinking about how this can’t be just a local issue and we have this new invention called the internet that lets us “search” for news stories from all across the nation. In my journey to discover how other schools are dealing with this issue, I came across an article from 2007 in the St. Ignace News. The article goes on to explain that the state cancelled the student aide programs if the work is not academic. With that they came up with 5 new models for the student aides:  physical education aide, teaching assistant in the secondary classroom, cadet teaching assistant in the elementary classroom, computer and technology assistant, and elementary mentor.

Three of these caught my eye as applicable to our schools. To preface, my school is a career and technical school and two of the programs we offer are teacher education and early childhood education. With that all 5 are applicable but the last two are actually what our program area offers for the most part. As for the others, we have a couple of options.

First is this new healthy living movement our school is on. What would be better than a physical education aide to help push this. As the article explains, the physical education aide:

The physical education aide position includes descriptions for physical education assistants and athletic director assistants. The physical education assistant will be in locker rooms before and after class while students are dressing and showering, will officiate games, remove and replace equipment, assist special needs students, keep track of daily attendance, and correct inappropriate behavior or bring it to the teacher’s attention. Aides will be graded on rules for each sport played in class during a nine-week period.

This falls right in line with our movement and will help alleviate the overload of student aides we have. They could be the student leaders in this healthy living movement and set the example for others.

Next is the computer and technology assistant. With the budget cuts, we have had a major hit to our computer specialist. For a school like ours, highly technological, we were struggling with just one full time. Now we are down to only having her 4 out of 5 days. To offset that, this program could become a vital part of the budget cuts. The article explains the role as:

The technology assistant curriculum includes extensive handson computer work, including updating the district Web site to teach basic Web design and programming. Students will learn network maintenance basics such as connecting a computer and printer to the school’s network. Personal computer repair, system and application software maintenance, computer skills, and more than 20 other lessons are part of the course content. The technology assistant will also help other students perform tasks, print, and use e-mail. The assistant will help staff connect equipment, and install, update, and use software. Students will also be familiar with accessing the school network and teaching others how to access and use the network.

These are all the basic day-to-day issues that bog down our computer specialist, getting in her way of dealing with the bigger issues. To have a small army of technology students to take this off her plate while gaining real world experience would in invaluable.

Finally is the teaching assistant in the secondary classroom.

The secondary classroom teaching assistant course is designed to expose students to the teaching profession. Students will learn about classroom management and work individually with students, among several duties. Student teaching assistants are now required to write an essay on the challenges public education faces today, write a piece on what has inspired them to become an educator, and write a journal about their experiences. The assistant will also create a lesson and teach it to the class. The student must demonstrate interest in the education field, and will also research public education topics.

Not only could this be a great addition to our current Teaching Education Program, but it could help fill the issue of what to do with all our aides. Through this, the “teaching assistants” might also gain an appreciation for the profession. It would be an opportunity to see beyond the curtain. It would give them purpose and a sense of pride as they are given greater responsibilities by the adults. Instead of just sitting at a desk stapling papers, they could be pacing themselves in writing about educational issues with a distant deadline but class time reserved for this. Exit interviews could serve as finals and it would be more impactful than the token A we always end up giving them just for showing up.

These were all great ideas I read and immediately started brainstorming how I could incorporate them into my class this year with my 2 aides. I know them both and I can’t wait to see how it works. While we may fear the unknown, I am excited at the possibilities of a new future that has a great affect on our students and our profession.