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Posts Tagged ‘educational assistant’

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This past summer I read a book that made me … ponder my career field.

I work as an Educational Assistant in a middle school. Within this field I get to work with students who have been diagnosed as having special needs (don’t we all?), as well as those who simply struggle to learn at the typical speed or style as the majority of their peers. I also get to work closely with those who teach these students, and their parents … it’s a team mentality, with all striving for the best from each particular student.

Is it perfect? no.

Is it good? yes.

I love my job!

At the end of last year, a student in the high school I worked, handed me a book and said I should read it (I learned long ago, that when a child or teen says such a thing, it is imperative that I do so). As I read, “Look Me in the Eye“, by John Elder Robison, I began to ponder my training to work as an Educational Assistant.

John is a successful adult, who happens to also have autism.

This, then, has led me re-visit the life of Temple Gandin. Another successful adult, living with the challenges that autism can bring to an individual (and those who love them).

In the past month I have been investigating these two individuals, listening to them speak, reading what they have written, on their lives, and their needs, and their strengths as well as weaknesses.

I have realized that my formal education in special needs taught me little about what those with special needs know. Instead I was taught what psychologists, behavioral specialists, doctors and teachers believe they know about everything from autism to Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) to Down’s Syndrome (Trisomy 21) to Fragile X to hearing impairment and so on.

If a person wanted to learn the piano would you learn more from someone who studies pianos, or one who plays them?

If a person wanted to learn about cooking would they go to a food critic or a chef?

If a person wanted to learn about building a house, would you learn more from a building inspector or a builder?

I would say that in each of the above comparisons, one would learn the most from both professionals … just as one working with those with special needs should learn from those who study the various special needs, as well as learning from those with the special needs themselves.

After all, is it they who have something to teach us.

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As I was preparing a post for today, my attention was diverted (in true undiagnosed Attention Deficit Disorder fashion) to a video, that moved my intended post to another day.

I am not a teacher, I have no calling to become a teacher, but I work in a high school. Although my ‘title’ is Educational Assistant, I prefer to view what I do as that of a ‘reINFORCER’ (I’d love to see that title on the school website … I wonder how many parent calls the school would get). You see I take what a teacher teaches to a full classroom, and then I reinforce the meat of the lesson to a few students in a variety of ways.

This video reinforces my heart-cry for the necessity of relationship within learning. As a ‘non’ teacher I have more freedom to look at the students as a whole rather than look at them through their academic, intellectual or social achievements.

About ten years ago I was introduced to a teacher who was leading a workshop on behavioral issues in the classroom. She started her workshop telling us her philosophy:

“If you want to change a student’s behavior,
you need to first convince them that
(real or perceived)
you like them.”
Carol Griffiths

After that workshop, I did not miss one of her workshops again for many years. She gave words to the cry of my heart for the students that I encounter each day. From that point on, I changed how I did my job, because now I had words to keep me intentional in the focus of my job.

This TED video reinforces that message. I cannot say that this change in my focus will improve the academic scores of the students I encounter (but how could it not?), but I do believe, with all my heart, mind and soul, that it will improve their future life.

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So, I went to church on Sunday (that is pretty normal), and I got heck from someone!

Let me set the scene. This particular Sunday, those involved in the various areas of Christian education (kids club teachers, small group leaders, etc) were being prayed for. Those people were asked to stand, to show the congregation who was being prayed for. Then, the leader asked anyone who is a teacher in a school to stand, as well. After that, more people stood, and then they prayed.

It was then that I got a bruising elbow to my ribcage. My daughter, sitting beside me, then whispers, “you are a teacher, why didn’t you stand up?” To which I answered, “honey, I am not a teacher, and you need to consider a future in football!” “Mom, you teach people every day, you are a teacher, and you should be standing.”

What is a teacher? Dictionaries will tell you a teacher is someone who teaches, or a person who educates students. I guess, by those definitions I am a teacher, but that is not my ‘title’, officially, or in my heart.

My title is Educational Assistant, and it is a role I love. But, I have to be honest, what I am paid to do is not as important as what I feel called to do. For me, whether teaching my daughter to paint furniture, or teaching “Lifeskills” to a student at school, I am called to do it with the heart of a mother. It is from that calling that I do pretty much everything else.

Years ago, when I was pregnant with our eldest daughter, I was also working in a home for disabled adults. There were up to five living in this home, and as an employee I was responsible for everything from personal care, to making meals, to housecleaning, to planning and taking them to social events. My title was Residential Care Aide. I loved my job, and the people I cared for.

Then I had my baby girl.

When I returned to work, six months later, everything was different. All of a sudden, those five residents had become the sons and daughter of someone. It felt as though my eyes were opened to seeing them in a new way, as new creations. Even though most of them had no contact with their families, even though most had given their children over to the care of the province, they were the adult children of someone.

I would go to work after having had a snuggle with my daughter, breathing in her baby scent, and see a man in his fifties, not as the stinky, non verbal, man that I had known before my giving birth, but a man who one day was snuggled by his mother, who too had enjoyed his baby scent.

Or, I would leave home after having cleaned up the over-turned plant that my daughter pushed over from the curiosity of toddler-hood, and see the young woman, not with just mischief in her eyes, but wonder for how things work.

The people who I assisted with life did not change one bit, in the six months I was gone from work, but I had. I had become a mother. I had truly labored her into the world, and as she was being born into this world, I was being born as a new creation, a mother.

Ever since that day, I have been changed. I cannot turn off my title as mother. I cannot take a vacation or decide to quit. I cannot trade it in for a new title. And every other title I might have (Educational Assistant or Teacher) pales in comparison. But, in being a mother, my ability to fulfill those other roles is enlightened, improved and fulfilled with more purpose than I ever could have imagined.

I might never stand when teachers are asked to stand, but ask for mothers to get to their feet, and I’m the first one up!

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As we drove down the road that we do not often drive, I spotted a new home still being constructed. Situated on top of hill, it had a perfect view of the reflected setting sun upon Washington’s Mount Baker. “Oh, what a perfect view I said to my husband,” and barely before I finished my declaration, from the back of the van, my son said, “that house has a perfect view.”

Hubby and I looked at each other, laughed, then shared my similar comment with the occupant of the rear of the vehicle. Then my son and I decided that if the two of us were to build a home, our first priority would be the view.

As I ponder that moment in time, I see similar characteristics in my son and I. We long for beauty, we are aesthetically needy individuals. We desire to have an appealing view in our life, and to be looking toward something that pleases our eyes.

I also see in this similarity, how this characteristic we share, is contrary to my son’s position in football. You see my son plays defense, and when you play defense your job is to hit, to tackle, to do anything possible to ensure that the opposing team is prevented from completing their intended play, and advancing towards the goal posts. When you play defense you have your back to the view that is the goal of your opponents. You are, in essence, trying to alter the view of the game, by changing the direction that the ball is going.

I also see that this characteristic we share is contrary to my position at work. I work as an Educational Assistant in a high school. I work with students who have diagnosable struggles to accomplish their school work. When you work in this field your job is to unlock doors you do not see to rooms of gifts and abilities that may or may not exist. I constantly work with my eyes blindfolded to how far this student will go, I cannot fathom the view that is the potential.

Despite how blinded to where we are going, what my son and I share is a focus on a view that we both know exists, despite our inability to see it while we are doing our jobs, focusing on our tasks, living our day. We are able to do this because we know the view is out there, and we know that it is beautiful beyond our imaginations. So, we soldier on with the anticipation of what is to come.

This is the Christian experience of daily living. God has given us a view of not just eternity, but of a life lived with Him. It is beautiful beyond our imaginations. And, despite the fact that our view is obstructed by the realities of living in a sin-filled world, despite the fact that it sometimes seems as though we are blinded to the future. Despite the fact that it sometimes seems as though our view is behind us, our faith in the existence of what is to come, and of the beauty that awaits, motivates us to soldier on, in anticipation of the view to come.

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
Hebrews 11:1

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W A Y  back in the days of the abacus and slate boards, I was a pretty good student.

Maybe it wasn’t back quite that far (my high school grad class is having a twenty-fifth reunion this summer), but I probably work with a few students who would not blink an eye if I told them it was so.

I had marks in the 80-90% area, I did my homework, was polite to my teachers, and was involved with various school groups and activities. Not to be arrogant, but I was an ‘ideal’ student (although my memories of my parents coming home from parent-teacher interviews, always included, “she talks a lot in class” … okay, maybe not ‘ideal’ 😉 ).

I feel bad for the hard working teachers I had, because the pearls (education) that they presented to me, were received by a swine. They gave me what I needed to know, but I had rarely understood that I needed it, beyond test writing. I had learned to put the information in, spit it out for the purpose of assessment (test or exam), then forget I ever knew it. For me the information was only learned for the purpose of regurgitating it back at test time.

As an EA (Educational Assistant), I have learned so much by working in a high school, that I was supposed to have learned when I was a student.

In English I listen to poems that I could never have understood, when I was back in grade nine.

I sit in Math and I can read a word problem, involving algebra that I now understand will be the most practically utilized math skills, after school ends.

In a foods class I learn about different leaveners, and how each works. I cook every day … this is important education!

I watch a PE class and understand that ‘playing games’ is for fitness, and that fitness is something that is of vital importance, as we live and age.

I now understand that knowing about history (including religion) can help to make sense of world events, and can help us to learn from the past and (hopefully) not repeat it.

In science, a student can learn about the physical world we live in, and even if all one ever gets from astronomy is that they can lay on a blanket on the grass, on a summer night, and point out the big dipper to their own kids, it will all be worth it.

When we are school students we learn for no reason other than to just get it done, so that we can move on to the next grade, and so on, and so on. The information has not reached a level of practical importance.

I recently heard an educator say, “if a student can re-teach what they have learned, they understand it.”

Originally, if my child came home with A’s and B’s, I would feel confident that they had done well, and learned what was necessary. As I have worked in schools, and my own kids have gotten older, my perspective on learning has changed.  Now if my child is driving home with me, and tells me the interesting facts about life in the Roman Empire , and even includes what we can learn from their lives and the fall of the Empire, but only gets 70% on a unit test, I am far more pleased in the learning.

From my own experience as a ‘good’ student, and now being in classrooms on a daily basis, I see that a number on a report card does not indicate learning. I also know, from my own experience, that A’s and B’s on a report card do not indicate success in life, and C’s and D’s do not suggest a mediocre existence. And, sometimes, qualifications for life (after high school) have nothing to do with education.

I would rather see a child squirming in their seat, but absorbing the information that is taught, than one who is ‘conforming’ in their seat, able to perform a test.

Just sayin’.

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