An investigation of the literature reveals seven personal attributes that teaching assistants (TA) need to function in their day-to-day tasks. These are:
1. Ability to positively relate or interact with students and teachers
2. Disposed to teamwork participation – a team player
3. Disposed to sharing knowledge/teaching
4. Willingness to accept and respond appropriately to instructions.
5. A caring disposition – nurturing, patient and fair
7. Critical reflection, so as to learn
While all these are important, the literary investigation reveals the ability to positively relate or interact with students and teachers and a disposition for teamwork as most important.
In 95% (n=47) of the studies consulted in the investigation, the personal attribute that is most frequently and explicitly or implicitly stated is a TA’s ability to positively relate to, or interact with students and teachers. This is a personal attribute in use for 90% of the school day. It is in use during instructional tasks such as whole class, small group and individual instruction and non-instructional tasks such as monitoring a class of students during lunch or recess or helping students get ready for the school bus to take them home.
The following actions are indicative of a TA positively relating to, or interacting with students and teachers: displaying pleasure and enjoyment of students; interacting with students and teachers in a responsive and respectful manner; offering to help the students and the teacher in the classroom-to aid them in achieving academic goals and lesson objectives; helping students to reflect on their thinking and learning skills; knowing and demonstrating knowledge about individual students’ backgrounds, interests, emotional strengths and academic levels, and avoid showing irritability or aggravation toward the students and teacher. The investigation also highlights the fact that relating to or interacting with students in ways listed here will aid students in attaining higher levels of achievement and aid teachers to not just achieve lesson objectives, but help to facilitate the smooth flow of lessons.
It is important to note that the personal attribute of the ability to relate or interact positively with students and teachers can be cultivated by those for whom this may be an underdeveloped area.
A disposition for teamwork is the second most cited important personal attribute highlighted by the investigation. Aside from being a featured professional value expected of teaching assistants, the importance of TAs to ‘naturally’ engage in teamwork and to be comfortable doing so cannot be overemphasized. This is important given their increased roles in schools, varied needs of students, and changes in legislation.
The ability to work well with the teacher (who has the training and expertise) will aid the teaching assistant in navigating, modifying and adapting to occurrences-inside and outside the classroom-which impacts him or her. Given the nature of TAs work in schools which, in addition to relating to or interacting with students and teachers, also involves collaborating and sharing with teachers and other TAs, the absence of this personal attribute may render them impotent to function in the role.