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Source: University of Waikato

A new course at the University of Waikato is supporting teacher aides who work with school students with serious and complex learning needs, including those impacted by Covid-19.

According to an Education Review Office report in 2021, more than 50% of schools were offering transition plans to manage anxiety, challenging behaviours and disruption to routines as learners returned to school post lockdown.

With more than 20,000 people work as teacher aides in Aotearoa assisting classroom teachers to support students with additional needs, there are no specific requirements to become a teacher aide and traditionally there has been no career pathway or professional development to support teacher aides in schools.

The new online nine-week Teacher Aide Course, open to current teacher aides and learning support staff, is filling that gap. It is the only course of its kind in New Zealand with a pathway into a Bachelor of Teaching qualification.

The course launched its  in June and is already receiving positive feedback from the inaugural intake on how this is supporting them as they work with children in the classroom.

Teacher aide Donna Pemberton was one of the 30 teachers who took part in the inaugural teacher aide course at the University of Waikato.

Close to 30 teacher aides from around the country completed the course through May and June, which explored how they could support learners’ well-being, health and safety, and learning, behavioural, educational and cultural needs.

Teacher aide Donna Pemberton, from Wattledowns, Manurewa, says teacher aides are constantly challenged, with more children presenting higher levels of anxiety, stress, and simply unable to cope.

“I don’t believe we have seen the full impact that Covid has had on our rangatahi (young people). Coming back to school has not been easy for some; they feel safer at home and have had to adjust to social distancing and mask-wearing,” Donna says.

“As a teacher aide, you can sometimes feel out of your depth.”

Enrolling in the School of Education course, Donna says she feels better equipped to do her job.

“I would absolutely recommend this course to any teacher aide, in fact, I think it should be compulsory.“

Kate Garnham reading a book with Tommy at Frasertown School near Wairoa.

Kate Garnham, a teacher aide at Frasertown School near Wairoa, says she was nervous entering the course, as she had never done previous tertiary-level study.

Her fears were quickly resolved thanks to the support from her tutors.

“We learnt a large range of topics that I will continue to refer back to when working, including the importance of relationships and the impact they have on the tamariki, as well as the connections with their whānau.”

She also learnt about different behaviours and strategies to motivate students.

University of Waikato Associate Dean Academic in Education, Associate Professor Kirsten Petrie says teacher aides are an essential part of our education system, it is important that they have opportunities for professional learning to enhance their current practice.

“It’s about providing them with a programme that can support them to continue to develop as educators,” she says.

A 15-point option paper can also be credited towards the Bachelor of Teaching, Primary upon completing all three modules of the course. Applications for the next model are now open.