Good Teaching Assistants Learn How To Handle the Unexpected

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Patrice Hayes, teacher assistant ambassador
'I like that I am a big part of their life at a pivotal time in their life.' (Credit: Courtesy Patrice Hayes)

Patrice Hayes has been a teaching assistant for 14 years, but the task of helping young children “figure out life skills” never gets old. 

Why did you become a teaching assistant? Did you always want to do this?

I always wanted to work closely with children. But I kind of stumbled into this career. I was at Morris Brown College working to get into the medical field. But I was driven more to work in a classroom, so I decided to explore that career route. I left Morris Brown and started volunteering and then working at the YMCA, where I was a cheerleading coach and a computer instructor. That’s when I knew for certain that I loved pulling out all the great qualities in kids. I decided to become a teacher full-time. There was an opening at a nearby school, and I've been there ever since. I do not have a CDA (Child Development Associate) credential. I am an assistant to the lead teacher. 

What does a typical day for a teaching assistant look like?

I arrive at school at 8 a.m. I review the day’s plans with the lead teacher. We usually have a total of about 15 students. The kids are 2 to 3 years old, so every day is full of surprises. Preschool kids learn through play. We do small group activities, circle time, lunch, nap time and music. School ends at 4. Before I leave, I clean up, sanitize and then go home. I work 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., five days per week. 

What do you like most about your job?

I love engaging with the children and learning their personalities. I like that I am a big part of their life at a pivotal time in their life. I love to see them grow. I love to see their personalities shine. 

The least?

I am sad that I am only with them for a year. I can get attached! I wish I could see them through elementary school and high school.

What’s the most common misconception about your job?

That preschool teachers are mostly babysitters — and that kids at that age can’t learn. It’s so not true! Preschool kids are like sponges. They are learning socially, emotionally,  and I'm helping them figure out life skills. I am helping teach, and they are learning those things and more every day. 

What do you wish you knew about the job before you got into it?

I have trouble sometimes detaching myself from the kids. I create a special bond with each of my students. It’s hard sometimes separating myself as a teacher.  

What personality traits would make someone a good teaching assistant?

You have to be consistent. You have to have patience. You have to be positive. You have to be able to handle the unexpected. For example, a child can get upset — have a meltdown — over the smallest thing, and you have to be prepared. You can’t act surprised. You have to know how to deal with it. 

Is there a time where you felt your job made a real impact on someone’s life?

My job is impactful every day. Little eyes are watching me and absorbing everything I do and say every day. That is a big responsibility and very satisfying to me. I went through a personal rough patch a couple of years ago and coming to work — working with the kids — brought me so much happiness. My job definitely helped me through that rough patch. 

Where do you see yourself in five to 10 years?

I can see myself using all the teaching tools I've learned and applying them to parent my own children.

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