Meet Jenna EA

Jenna works as a Special Education Assistant in a middle school in BC.  Her training was through a community college taking the Community Support Worker / Classroom Assistant 1-year program.  Jenna chose the SEA work as she has her own special needs child with Autism and that is what sparked her interest.  The needs of her own child came first and she found she could work the same days and hours that her child was in school.

For the first 6 years, Jenna worked as an on-call EA.  It meant waiting for a phone call in the morning to get her assignment. During this time she worked in many different schools with many different children.  Jenna says “Although in my training I learned the technical end of the work, being on call I was being able to apply my skill and this is how my confidence  grew.”

 Jenna says "Although in my training I learned the technical end of the work, being on call I was being able to apply my skill and this is how my confidence  grew."

In 2014 a position came up at the middle school for 20 hours per week.  It wasn’t financially as great as some of the other positions but it had an appeal on a topic she wanted to learn more about.  Jenna applied for the job and soon found she was on a new learning journey herself.

This new position was working with students in a resource room. There were 2 EAs and one teacher and about 25 students. The students came to the resource room for remedial math and reading support as well as a computer-based program called FastForword.

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“Neuroplasticity and Brain Science is what I had to learn about,” says Jenna.  And she said it fascinating to learn how the brain changes with this program. “I saw a nonreader emerge as a beginning reader and that was exciting.”  Jenna also said it changed the way she thought about how all children can learn.    “It also helped me understand what more I could do with my own child at home.”

The school has sent Jenna to one workshop of 6 hours to prepare her for this work, but mostly she learned on the job by shadowing the teacher and reading whatever material she can on neuroplasticity.

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Jenna’s role is mainly supervising the students while they are working on the computer based program making sure they stay on task.  She is required to fill in a log book, but the assessment is done by the teacher.  Jenna also reads with students and will tutor math on occasion.

Running the FastForward program is expensive for a school and the EA role is an additional expense.  Jenna worries each year her position can be cut.

Jenna is a single mom and to offset the low hours Jenna works part-time at Starbucks and works as an independent Stella & Dots Stylist.  She relies on support from family to watch her son so she can do additional work for income.  When I asked her if she wished she had a position with higher hours she laughed and replied, “I love my job and would not trade it for anything. I get to make a difference and I see real results.”

 

 

 

What is an Education Assistant?

Education Assistants are busy working in almost every school in BC.  Supporting students with special needs and supporting classroom teachings in the delivery of the educational learning outcomes.  The skill set of an EA can be as complex as the needs of the classroom.

Consider an EA needs to be flexible and adaptable.  Every year the EA is given a new assignment.  The assignment will bring a new learning curve and adjustment to the skill set required to do the job.

The position is driven by the needs of the child.  The first component of knowledge comes into play. Does the EA have the enough information about the needs?  In my 25 years as an EA, I always felt each year I needed to draw in more knowledge to support the expectations of what was needed.  Every single child is unique and had different challenges.

Equally important is the relationship the EA must make with the teacher.  If you are lucky enough to stay at a school year after year your relationship with teachers grows , therefore your ability to can grow and the EA become an effective team member of a school.  Like a teacher, this is a profession you grow and specialize in.

For most of my career, I was fortunate to work in the largest school district in the province.  Opportunity to learn and grow was easy as jobs are plentiful and the finding job satisfaction can happen by just transferring to another position. This is not easy if you work in a small district with limited jobs.

It is  possible an EA ends up working with a student that will challenge the skill set or the relationship with the teacher is not suitable.

What makes a good EA?  Stenberg College  lists the following criteria one should consider if thinking about choosing this path.

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An EA can specialize in an area.  An EA can choose to work only with elementary school children or  high school students.  Some children are on and academic track and some on a life skill track.  Positions can vary and be supporting with students that have intensive behaviour and complex language delays, children with high medical needs and learning disabilities.

In my 25 years, I have supported with Verbal Apraxia     Down Syndrome    Autism ADS Medically Fragile  FASD  Dyslexia  Learning Disabilities  Anxiety Disorders .  The goal working with each of these children was to create access to education.

Educating the child lies with the teacher, creating access to the teacher and the education is the role of the EA.  Learning to create access properly requires ongoing professional development, a reflection of practice, and mentorship.

That is the goal of this blog.  My hope is that EAs will take the time to share their stories of success and provide leadership to those new in the profession, so  EAs can continue to grow and contribute to this valuable work.  If you would like to add content to the EA Cafe Blog  please Contact me!

Thank you .  Dee Beattie