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Rhode Island ESP Chart Career Path Through Certification.

Teacher assistants get training on their way to being certified.

In Rhode Island, professional development for teacher assistants is everyone's business. Sandie Blankenship, an 11-year teacher assistant and NEA Rhode Island (NEARI) regional vice-president, is helping to see to that.

Six years ago, concerns about a misguided legislative proposal motivated her to persuade the bill's state senate sponsors to amend it. The legislation as finally passed required that any teacher assistant hired after January 1, 1999, possess a certificate. Teacher assistants who were employed as of that date were grandfathered in.

Blankenship's initial involvement led to her appointment to a Rhode Island Department of Education task force charged with defining the roles of teacher assistants and establishing the criteria for certificate training programs. The guidelines the task force came up with allowed school districts, as well as other public and private organizations, to create certificate preparation programs and submit them to RIDE for approval.

UniServ Director Jane Argentieri and Blankenship decided that NEARI should offer its own training program, both as a service to current members and as a way to connect prospective members to the Association. They found strong support from NEARI leadership, and in the fall of 1999 the first NEARI Teacher Assistant Certificate Program sessions began. The program was repeated last spring. In all, 110 Rhode Island teacher assistants have graduated from it so far.

The demanding program consists of 11 three-hour classes covering all aspects of the teacher assistant's job, including instructional, legal, health and safety, and technology issues. Trainers are drawn from all parts of NEARI's membership--ESP, teachers, nurses. Blankenship, a teacher assistant in a North Kingstown high school work-study program, co-teaches the opening class on "Collaboration and Team Building" with NEARI President Larry Purtill. Participants may miss only two classes and are required to keep a journal throughout the program.

Last year both sessions were full, and people were turned away. A number of nonmembers enrolled, even though the program fee for nonmembers is $150, compared with $25 for members. "If you offer people what they want, they'll come," observes Argentieri.

Blankenship isn't surprised that 90 percent of those enrolled so far have been veteran teacher assistants, who were exempted from the law's requirement that they earn a certificate. "ESP want to learn to do their jobs better, and to interact better with teachers," she says. Local associations in Rhode Island are now trying to negotiate stipends for those who have obtained their certificates.

RIDE Commissioner Peter McWalters is very excited by the response so far to the new teacher assistant certificate requirement. In addition to NEARI's, there are about 20 other training programs around the state. NEARI's training program continues this year, with two more sessions planned. Blankenship remains closely involved with it but will also be serving on another RIDE task force, this one charged with enhancing standards and training requirements for specific teacher assistant specialties, such as speech and language and ESL.

For more information about the Teacher Assistant Certificate Program, contact Sandie Blankenship or Jane Argentieri, NEA Rhode Island, 99 Bald Hill Rd., Cranston, RI 02920, 401/463-9630). E-mail: sanran@ids.net (Blankenship), jargentieri@nea.org (Argentieri).
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Title Annotation:development of certification programmes for teachers' assistants
Publication:NEA Today
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1U1RI
Date:Oct 1, 2000
Words:527
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