Letter: A Day in the Life of a Special Education Assistant

Letter to the Editor

I’m sure you’ve all heard the saying ‘it takes a village to raise a child’. Well, stop and think for a moment of your child’s school as a village. I’m going to tell you a story of a day in the life of a Special Education Assistant (EA).

It’s Monday and all 300 students are back to school. I walk into my school and I’m greeted by many staff with a good morning. I walk toward the bus bay as I get ready for my morning bus duty………..this is where it all begins…….

As each of the four buses arrive it is my responsibility to make sure all of the children get to their assigned play areas safely. As soon as all of the busses have arrived I move to the school yard to supervise the students. As the bell rings all of the students line up and are led into the school by their teachers. During this time you may find some EAs waiting for cabs or parent drop offs or are walking with their special needs students to their classrooms.

Once in my classroom I prepare my student for a day of school work. It’s O’Canada time and my student refuses to stand. The teacher directs the student to do so and he still refuses. The teacher looks to me for support. I speak quietly to the student and he complies. And so it begins…..

It’s time for religion…….my student only reads at a grade one level but the book in front of him is grade 4. Imagine the feeling he must be experiencing. The student looks up at me then down at the book confused and then withdraws. The teacher calls on students to read passages and my student panics and runs from the room. The teacher is unable to leave due to having to teach 28 other students so I follow him and find him hiding in a corner by an exit door. I sit down next to him and start to talk and listen. I learn that he is embarrassed that he can’t read at that level and won’t participate in class. I suggest that he doesn’t need to read but can just sit and listen. He agrees to come back and sit and listen.

I report back to the teacher and she agrees not to call upon him to read. The teacher and I discuss other avenues in which we could better assist this student’s success. We decide on a special computer software program that reads to the student so that he can better understand what is being read. Of course with this type of learning disability usually comes difficulty with writing. Many accommodations and modifications need to be done for this student’s learning to be successful and both the teacher and all support staff work together to make this happen.

This is only one case of many. We as EAs support a variety of students with multiple disabilities. We are a voice for those who can’t speak, caregivers for those in wheelchairs, we feed those who can’t feed themselves, and we calm and teach strategies to those students who can’t do it for themselves. We keep children safe, and we support those students who would otherwise have difficulty being included in a regular classroom due to aggressive behaviour.

You may ask yourself, I don’t have a child with special needs so why should I care? Well you should care because it is not just the children with special needs that we assist. We also support those on special education plans and other students on occasion. Have you ever had your child come home and say ‘Mom and Dad, Mrs. B or Mr. S helped me figure out that math question’ or ‘helped me solve a social issue’ or even just ‘took the time to talk with me’. As you can see, our role as support workers stretches and reaches further than the classroom.

We are caregivers, role models, educators, mentors, and sometimes a stabilizing force in the day to day lives of some of these children. We work together within the school community, with families and each other to bring a ray of hope and sunshine to our students. Without us many students would have only a teacher in a room of over 30 students and would have difficulty getting the one on one care and support they need. We play an important role in the daily operations of not only the school but also the lives of our students. We do what we do, not for the money, but for the children we love to care and work for. We want them to be successful, happy, safe and comfortable in their surroundings and be able to function in all aspects of their lives. This is not a job but a love of what we do!

In supporting us you support all children and their well-being, education and happiness. Let’s work together as a village and continue to help our children be the best they can be.

Lisa Grbich, EA