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A qualitative exploration of teacher assistants’ experiences and perceptions of their work Robertson, Carolyn Patricia


This qualitative study investigates the work of teacher assistants supporting students with disabilities in the public education system of British Columbia. Guided by the question, "What are the experiences and perceptions of the teacher assistants as they support students with disabilities in public education?", a naturalistic-phenomenological methodology was used to explore the experiences and perceptions of eight teacher assistants through in-depth interviews. Described are six major themes that emerged from the data. These include: 1) a shared sense of purpose in their work, one of supporting students towards independence and an enhanced quality of life; 2) participation in the development of the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) for the students; 3) a large degree of variability and lack of clarity in the roles and responsibilities; 4) a high level of educational decision-making, responsibility, and autonomy in their work, including responsibility for adapting and modifying educational programs; 5) a low level of valuing and recognition for the work done, and 6) a strong sense of satisfaction and joy that arises from working with the students. There were a number of structural, attitudinal, and education issues that participants shared that contributed to the lack of clarity for the role and the tension between the high level of responsibility and low level of valuing and recognition. These findings support issues addressed in the current literature, including the lack of clarity of role and responsibilities, the need to educate teachers on ways to work with teacher assistants, and a lack of valuing and support for teacher assistants. They do not support the idea of increased education for teacher assistants as the sole means towards alleviating tensions arising in the field. A number of areas for further investigation arise from this study, as well as a call for further investigation in all aspects of the work of the teacher assistant.

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