Claremont, Calif. — As I have done before, I have been taking advantage of Randy, an in-law who is an elementary school principal.
I was interested in knowing a little, which at least is better than nothing, about teachers' aides. How does an aide aid, and how important are these aides to the successful functioning of a school?
To take the second part of my question first, I found Randy an all-out supporter of aides and quick to express his appreciation for their help. The word he used to evaluate their importance to an elementary school was ''critical.''
According to him, they could make the difference between exceptional and ordinary, maybe even between success and failure.
Aides aid teachers and students in many ways. Their help to the teacher might be doing clerical work, such as typing, which could be done at the school or at home; or copying, or mimeographing materials; or preparing and posting bulletins , or running errands, perhaps getting something needed from an office or storeroom; or decorating the classroom with student artwork.
These are only a few ways aides might allow the teacher to concentrate on teaching. But the aide can also be involved in the educational process directly.
Instead of freeing the teacher from chores, useful as that may be, an aide can be an expansion or extension of the teacher, adding to instructional achievement.
Here is where an aide becomes more of a teacher and is in close contact with the students. The aide's work may involve helping a student who needs individual assistance with reading, spelling, arithmetic, or whatever is presenting a difficulty that requires a one-to-one relationship of student with instructor.
Or the aide, usually referred to as an instructional aide, may teach a small group of students that need special attention within a large class.
Some aides are paid and some are unpaid volunteers. The paid aide may put in from two to five hours a day. The length of time varies among schools.
There are also ''noon aides'' who work only an hour and a half during the lunch period. Their first duty is to see that students do not rush out to the playground before they have done justice to their lunch. Then they assist teachers while students are at play, where their safety and sportsmanship is monitored.
I found Randy grateful for all aides, but especially for volunteers serving whatever way they can without pay.
Many of these are parents, and their reasons for volunteering differ. Some may wish to observe their own children and see how the teachers teach. But most have another reason for serving as unpaid aides: They just love to work with children.
At Randy's school, and probably at others, ways are found to honor these aides. This may take the form of a luncheon, a tea, an awards assembly, a gift of something the students have made, a certificate, or just a big ''Thank You'' sign.
Whatever it is, they have earned it. If volunteer aides were graded for giving their time and energy and for helping both teachers and students, most of them, Randy says, would get an ''A.''