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Guide to Success: What Is An Educational Assistant?

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ducational assistants (EA) support teachers and other members of the education system by helping provide in-depth curriculums and meaningful instructions to students. There are many meaningful duties that come with being an EA. This article looks deeper into what it means to become one and what is required to be successful in the role. 

Topics covered:

What Is An Educational Assistant?

What Qualifications Do You Need To Become An Educational Assistant?

How to Prepare For An Educational Assistant Job Interview?

10 Best Interview Questions And Answers For The Educational Assistant Position

What Is An Educational Assistant?

EA’s assist teachers in a variety of ways. Although an EA’s responsibilities may vary depending on the school, their position or seniority, they generally implement lesson plans with a teacher’s direction, report on student progress, help students physical or personal learning needs, conduct oral exams, help in classroom or school-wide events and activities, and support and build on positive student behaviours and relationships, to name a few. 

Alberta: The Ongoing Demand For Educational Assistants 

In the last two years, 70 per cent of employers have recruited EAs in Alberta. Around 16,800 EAs are employed after receiving a minimum one year post-secondary education. According to ALIS, EAs receive an average starting wage of $19.04 per hour, a salary that can go as high as $24.75. 

What Qualifications Do You Need To Become An Educational Assistant?

Employers generally prefer educational assistants to have a high school diploma and related post-secondary education. But with related experience being an asset in the hiring process, a post-secondary program with a required practicum experience is vital in making you stand out, especially since many EA job interview questions look into how effective candidates are when speaking with children. 

EA instructor at ABM College and former special education teacher, Donghyun Seo, says that effective attitudes around children are very important. 

“Some people misunderstand,” says Seo. “They believe ‘Oh, I'm going to be an educator so I have to be an expert in specific content, such as science or math,’ [but] they don’t have to.”

He adds that a love for children and patience are what makes a successful EA, as every student is different and some may require more time to learn than others. 

“For example, just teaching traditional multiplication, [may] take more than six months. So, I think [EAs have to be] patient, love kids, and that is it. They don’t have to be more than that.” 

How to Prepare For An Educational Assistant Job Interview?

The best ways to prepare for a job interview are:

  • Build on Your Education: Review the different topics you studied throughout your post-secondary, and try to build on what you already know with more research. Think of the potential qualities and qualifications you may need to succeed as an EA, and learn more about how you can meet those requirements.  
  • Practice Before The Interview: Interviews can make or break your opportunity to get hired. Preparing to answer common interview questions and practicing to articulate your thoughts for unique interview questions can make the biggest difference in how you proceed in the hiring process.  

10 Best Interview Questions And Answers For The Educational Assistant Position

One effective method to prepare for a job interview is to anticipate the different kinds of questions an employer may ask, and find opportunities to competitively answer questions in a way that promotes your skills, talents and passion for the job. Nothing says ‘I am the best candidate for the job’ other than explaining how you can go above and beyond to meet an employer’s expectations. Here are some questions you should expect during an EA job interview: 

  1. Q. Tell us about yourself. 

Regardless of expertise level or industry, this popular question is asked in any interview. The best way to answer a question like this is by telling the employer what it is about yourself that got you interested in education or in becoming an education assistant. Why would you be a passionate member of the team? What will make you motivated to come to work everyday? All these questions can easily be answered through this one common interview question.

Example: “Education has positively impacted me and my family’s life in numerous ways. Even as a senior high school student, I already knew that I wanted to lend a hand in shaping somebody else’s future. What better way to start than by becoming an educational assistant.”

  1. Q. What role do you believe a teaching assistant plays in the classroom?

Your answer to this question informs employers if you are aware of the essential roles and responsibilities that come with the position. It is also an opportunity for you to add your own personal touch of what you believe you can bring to the role. 

Example: “Education assistants essentially support teachers deliver the curriculum and aid in every facet of student learning and program delivery. In addition, assistants help report on the progress of individual students, as well as assist in school-wide programs and activities. Above all, I am very excited to aid students’ learning by encouraging positive learning behaviours and mending any roadblocks that may hinder a student from being successful in class.”

  1. Q. What past experience or training do you have working with children and/or special needs individuals? 

Although experience working with students with disabilities is not a necessity, experience with children is a must for educational assistants planning to work with preschool, elementary or high school students. Choosing a program with a practicum is vital, according to Seo. 

Example: “I honestly have not worked with students with disabilities in the past, but I am more than willing to learn when the opportunity arises. In my practicum, however, I had the wonderful opportunity to work with children between grades three to six. I learned so much in my six months on-the-job, and I do believe that it has prepared me for this role.”

  1. Q. What made you interested in our school?

There are many schools in every city. Employers want to know why you chose their institution. Your answer to this question can easily separate you from the crowd, when the time comes to choose who among the best applicants should be given the job. 

Example: “High school is a very nerve-wracking time for anyone. Although, it is not college, it is still a time when students decide what they want to do for the next few years or even the rest of their lives. Your school also has a noteworthy International Baccalaureate (IB) program that I’m sure has benefitted many graduates in the past. As a faculty, we are all here to help them succeed not only in high school but to also prepare them to effectively tackle the next steps they will be embarking on their own, whether that be college or full-time work. It would be an honour for me to take part in that process. ”

  1. How will you contribute to life in the classroom as an EA?

Unlike question two, this question delves deeper into the experience you can provide for teachers and students within the classroom, rather than just your essential roles. This question is asking you how passionate you are about the role and how will that passion translate into action. 

Example: “It is my goal to make the teaching experience as convenient as it possibly can be for our teachers, and to also aid the students in their learning journey. Although I am aware of an EA’s general list of responsibilities, I do expect it to adapt and change over time depending on the request and needs of both students and teachers. Teaching and learning are very progressive. Therefore, I too will keep an open mind to the ever-changing needs of the school.”

  1. Q. What are your strengths that you can bring to the role?

This question is not new to the hiring process. Know yourself and contemplate on this question before walking into your interview. Your ability to effectively answer this question will show the employer how self-aware you are of your personality, behaviours and actions, as well as how prepared you are for the interview. 

Example: “I believe that patience, multitasking and attention to detail are all qualities I can deliver for the role. Teaching students and aiding our faculty’s efforts to do the job require a little bit of each.” 

  1. Q. What would you say are your weaknesses?

We all have our weaknesses, as nobody can be perfect. This question tests if you are self-aware enough to recognize what qualities can set you back and if you have made any conscious efforts to change. 

Example: “I am aware that it may be difficult to keep up with moments of intense pressure, as it usually gets at certain times throughout the school year. I constantly practice managing my time, by noting current and future deadlines, as well as future school events that may affect my work schedule.”

  1. If some students have been disrupting class, how would you handle the situation?

Building meaningful relationships with students can positively impact their relationship with school, their classes and the necessary work required to succeed. Moments of in-class disruption by students, is an opportunity to show students you care, says Seo. 

Example: “I would follow whatever disciplinary action the teacher and I agreed upon previously. In most cases, if a student seems upset, I will kindly speak with them outside of class about what may be bothering them, in order for me to have a better understanding of their situation and see if there is a way for me to help. If students are, however, merely talking or not paying attention to the lecture, I will kindly ask for their attention. If the interruptions continue, I will prepare a separate sitting arrangement with my teacher for future class sessions after addressing the issue with the students in-person after class.”

  1. Tell me about a time when you convinced a child to do an assignment they didn’t want to do or felt not confident in doing. 

EAs have to work with kids even when they are unable to do their work. This question looks into how a candidate can adapt to a situation directly involving a child in the most effective way possible. Seo says situations like these are common and it’s a matter of not changing what you teach but how you teach.

Example: “There was this one instance when I noticed a student couldn’t answer most of the questions on her assignment sheet. I kindly asked her if I can help her better approach the questions. Since she really was not sure of how to begin solving the problems, I spent my time guiding her to solve the first three problems before leaving her to do the rest on her own. I told her I will be around if she needs anymore help, and encouraged her to attend our class’ tutorial hours in the morning if she needs further assistance.”

  1. What would you do if you disagreed with a teacher’s methods?

Conflict in the workplace is nothing new. This question sees if a job candidate understands how to effectively deal with conflict, misunderstandings or disagreements with an immediate supervisor, while still being able to express their concerns. 

Example: “If I disagreed with a teacher, I would bear in mind that it is their class. If I do feel strongly about expressing my opinion, however, I would schedule a time to politely speak with them about my concerns while also recognizing the more favourable points of their teaching methods.”

Becoming an EA is a journey to a very rewarding career. 

“I personally do not like the title ‘assistant,’” says Seo. “When I talk to my students, I always tell them, ‘Oh, you are more than assistants, you will be an educator.’” 

As educators, the rewards go beyond teaching students within the classroom’s four walls.

“Everytime I find out my students learn something, I am so happy,” he says, adding that the lessons students learn are not limited to academics. 

“When I was a special education teacher, I had one student with autism spectrum disorder, and when I had that student at the beginning of the semester, he couldn’t even say ‘hi,’” recalls Seo. “He was non-verbal. So, my goal was to help him say ‘hi’ to a stranger [with eye contact].”

After one year of Seo’s time with the student, he starts saying ‘hi’ with eye contact. 

“I cannot even explain how happy I was,” he says. “Yeah, that’s the best moment.”

Don’t limit your impact on others by academics alone, for working closely with students of any age gives you an opportunity to meaningfully shape the minds of future entrepreneurs, artists, communicators, thought leaders, doctors, nurses and more. 

Lastly, there are ways for you to get ahead of your education career despite major setbacks like the COVID-19 pandemic. There are also numerous efforts you can make to future-proof a meaningful career in education. 

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