A little help from your friends

Teacher Assistants continue to offer support in online classrooms

Teacher Assistants are the men and women who work in classrooms and offer support to teachers. They often take care of clerical work necessary to run a classroom — such as student attendance, filing and photocopying classroom material and assisting with grading class work.

“A teaching assistant is someone who can help a teacher,” Teacher Assistant Tes Giorgio said. Among a TA’s other responsibilities are being “a doctor, nurse, social worker, mother, but most importantly a teacher.”

Like everyone in education these days, the teacher assistants at the Center for Career Services are also working from home and adjusting to a new online learning environment. While it may look different, they continue to offer the same support to teachers and their students.

Dennis Hawkins has been a TA for 25 years, the last two at the Center for Career Services. He assists Richard Thomas in his Construction/Plumbing classes.

“Remote learning has some new challenges for us to overcome,” Mr. Hawkins said. “Ultimately we are striving to provide what academic work we can and offer our support to the students and their families in whatever capacity we are able.”

Since he is unable to work one-on-one with students, Mr. Hawkins has been reaching out to them via texts, phone calls and emails.

“For me this is the most difficult challenge,” he said. “I love being in the classroom, face-to-face and hands-on. Teaching is much more than just relaying information. It is the human connection made between teacher and pupil. It is the guidance and preparation for life as an adult that we impart to our students, which includes emotional support, development of ethics for work and life, even philosophical explorations at times.”

“Conveying and providing all of that and feeling that same gratifying sense of connection is just not possible,” Mr. Hawkins continued.

Tracy Greene, who has been a TA for 23 years, works with Laura Mirabel and Theresa Galitello in the Cosmetology program. She assists the teachers with practical and written work and helps ensure students pass their classwork in order to prepare them for the state licensing exam.

As online learning expanded through the week’s, schools have been closed. Ms. Greene has been helping teachers find material that would be useful for students, including sharing YouTube videos for students to watch, as well as tracking the daily attendance questions students receive to ascertain whether they are participating.

Among the biggest challenge for her is not being able to see the students work in person. Doing so, enables her and the teachers to see the students’ progress and practice the skills they will need for the State Board exam.

Ms. Giorgio is another TA who works in Cosmetology. She assists teacher Yolanda Lopez in the Cosmetology I class, that focuses on first-year students.

She has helped set up classes in Google Classroom, which allows her to send out assignments to students and track their progress.

“I am able to make up lessons, tests and have communication with students via email,” she said. “I am also able to call students and parents to discuss assignments and give academic and emotional support.”

The first-year students now have manikins available to them. Before they did, they were encouraged to practice their skills on willing family members.

“The students love to do hair and it was nice to see the completed work,” Ms. Giorgio said of the practice students did on family members. “You could see the quality of work they put into the assignment.”

The assignment also enabled families to spend time together.

“It helps break up some of the stress they may be feeling due to the pandemic,” she said.

Like so many other TA’s, Flora Cardinale is missing the students she assists in both the Office Skills and Collision Technology classes.

“I do miss the human interaction, especially in certain classes that are more hands-on learning,” she said.

Fifteen-year TA veteran Lesly Martes keeps busy helping teachers in the Nursing Assistant, Auto Collision and Detailing, and Television Production programs.

Like her colleagues, Ms. Martes helps monitor student participation with Google Classroom, and she is participating in weekly meetings with teachers and administrators as they plan and post assignments.

For her, one of the many challenges is not having access to labs or shops on campus.

“Many of our students like doing hands-on activities more than the work that the textbook provides,” she said. “We are very limited in practical activities since students don’t have the tools and equipment hey need to complete their projects.”