Teaching assistant role in a school in Sweden. An ethnographic case study

University essay from Göteborgs universitet/Institutionen för pedagogik och specialpedagogik

Abstract: The aim of this study is to explore the role of the teaching assistants in a school in Sweden by highlighting their deployment, employment and the needs of this role. This aim stems from the limited research on teaching assistants, the paucity in research that could not support decision making of the policy-makers and the belief that teaching assistants are under-used resource. Activity theory will be used for the above purposes as it investigates the complexities of real life and it has been used in case studies. This study will, also, produce a model of the TA activity and explore how activity theory could be used relating the development of the TAs in their workplace. For investigating this role, ethnographic case study was chosen in order to reveal the complexity of the situation and to highlight the regularities and patterns in the behaviour of the participants. The semi-structured interviews and participant-observation provided the study with valuable data which composed a holistic perspective of the situation. Data were organised in categories and then analysed with content analysis. The findings, which were generated from the analysis, concern the name of the TAs, their activity, the relationships between the TAs and the teachers, the training of the TAs and the employment conditions of this job position. To be more specific, the name does not affect the TA activity but it affects their employment as it can be misleading. TA activity entails the tasks that TAs have and the factors that interact for achieving the objectives. The findings of this study highlighted the nature of the tasks that the TAs have. They have not only practical and social tasks but also tasks that involve teaching. Two of the factors that affect their activity are the communities to which they belong and, mostly, the teachers. Although, assistants do not reduce teacher workload with their activity, teachers emerge as an important factor in TA role as they cooperate a lot. This cooperation brings up issues regarding the communication and time which need to be addressed in order to work efficiently. The training of the TAs is highlighted as another issue that needs to be addressed as assistants do not always have the qualification to fulfill their tasks. Last, the findings indicate an employment that depends on school criteria, the characteristics of the local labour market, no job description, positions’ stability for young classes and a job position that is combined with the recreational (fritids) programme.

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