Teaching Teams: The Roles of Lead Teachers, Teaching Assistants, and Curriculum Demand in Pre-kindergarten Instruction


Teaching assistants are a common presence in pre-kindergarten programs, but their role and the dynamics between lead teachers and their assistants are understudied. The classroom behaviors of lead teachers and assistants from 80 public prekindergarten classrooms were examined for similarities and differences in their roles and to determine how they functioned as teams. Lead teachers spent more of their time instructing and worked more often with the whole class. Assistants working in classrooms with a demanding curriculum spent more time instructing than assistants in less demanding classrooms. Latent class analysis of behavior patterns suggests that the adults adopt similar rather than complementary roles. Two groups of teaching teams emerged: one with both teachers and assistants spending time more time on instruction, and a second with both teachers and assistants spending more time on management. Despite lower pay and credentials, assistant teachers contributed in substantive ways to the instruction in these classrooms. It appears that the lead teacher likely determines how the team functions. Helping teachers know how to establish a well-functioning team should be part of early childhood training. Additionally, consideration to be given to offering direct and ongoing professional development to assistants.


Childhood Education and Family Studies

Document Type





Curriculum, Teachers, Teaching assistants, Teaching teams

Publication Date


Journal Title

Early Childhood Education Journal