Everyday Heroes—Educational Assistants (EAs)
Patience Is A Lifestyle
I've been teaching for over 20 years, and even now, I marvel at the work educational assistants do.
These are people who exercise patience as though it's part of their lifeblood. The kids they deal with on a regular basis are sometimes not the easiest cases, when you're talking about a "regular" classroom; there might be behavior issues at play that go far beyond simple defiance. The student they've been assigned to might have such profound learning challenges that even getting him or her to write a sentence or two at the end of a 75 minute period might feel like running a marathon, yet these are the people who are calm, steady and willing to go the extra mile.
These are people who, if they're in a Lifeskills or Autism Spectrum environment, may have to help toilet students. They might be asked to wear kevlar for their protection, whether it's because the special needs student tends to pinch, or whatever the case might be. They might be asked the same question 15 different times on the same day, and yet, they smile, gently respond to the student again and carry on with whatever they were doing.
They know that one kid prefers to wear ear defenders in class because the teacher's voice is too loud, while the other needs a special vest to help keep them calmer during class. They help put on shoes, escort students on walks, and do extra one-on-one work with students who need it because they're struggling with their literacy skills. They know what manipulatives help kids stay calmer longer, and how to negotiate faster than any businessman with their young charges for just two more minutes of extra work.
I don't know that I could do every part of what their job entails. I love kids, and I love what I do. I sit with kids and work on trying to improve their English and French skills to whatever extent they're able to reach. I try to inspire, to coach, and to coax kids along their educational pathways and hopefully along the way, they learn to enjoy the learning as I do.
They get to know whatever student or students they have been assigned right down to the last quirk. Some know the names of their student's favorite toy, and especially what treat or reward will keep their student going. They know what sort of humor the student "gets," and play along with that. And even when they might be ready to scream from frustration, they are smiling and patient and kind.
Not An Easy Job, But They Love It
A Special Sort Of Educator
Education Assistants are folks who work shoulder to shoulder with teachers and we both have the students' best interests at heart. We want to see students be successful. What I love about these educators is the fact that they have often inspired me with their energy and their creativity. I've learned something daily from them, whenever I've had an EA in my classroom, and for me, that's definitely an added bonus for my job.
Recently, my school played host to something like 300 special needs kids across our school district because it was the second annual Winter Ball, or effectively a prom for kids with special needs. It would have been all too easy for EAs to just come in their usual work attire, knowing that the day could bring its own challenges because of the high level of anticipation and excitement, but in addition to my entire school - EAs and teachers and admin alike - pitching in to do anything they could to make this day special for these unique students, everyone involved in the event showed up dressed to the nines.
EAs were dancing with their young charges, encouraging them to twirl and whirl under the swirling lights; some were keeping watchful eyes on those students with medical challenges; and still others were encouraging students to hit the dance floor or even just to talk with their peers. Others still were chatting with small clumps of students, learning still more about them.
It was after this event that I realized, once again, just how much EAs contribute to these kids' lives. Even now, at 5 in the morning, I can still see one young man's face as he pops in to a classroom to remind an EA about his upcoming hockey game that he'd like her to attend, and her nodding and agreeing to check her schedule.
EAs are people that have always had my respect and yes, even my admiration, and rightfully so. They help my job and countless other teachers' jobs go much easier on a daily basis, and the care they demonstrate for their young charges is amazing. So for all you EAs out there - thanks.