When Teacher Assistants Aren’t Assisting Anyone


Technically teacher aides, or assistants, are assigned to a classroom to assist a teacher with a special needs student.  Special needs include:

  1. learning disability
  2. mental handicap
  3. physical handicap
  4. autism
  5. other neurological syndromes
  6. behaviour

The real01_05_09_speciality is that the assistant works to assist the student in a plethora of ways:

  1. social skills
  2. academic achievement
  3. behaviour boundaries
  4. comfort and reassurance
  5. communication with family
  6. reporting on children’s progress to the special education team
  7. physical restraint
  8. removing child from classroom environment when necessary
  9. improving relationships with peers

There are three roles a teacher assistant can play:

  1. ERW (education resource worker)
  2. CYW (children and youth worker)
  3. Social Worker

It’s more difficult to use the social worker on a consistent basis, since s/he works between several schools (must protect that almighty budget, you know).  A typical social worker in the Ontario public school system serves approximately eight schools.  This usually means s/he is able to attend each school 1 – 2 days a week, or 3 times biweekly, not ideal availability to needy children.

Most of the teacher assistants I’ve met have been very efficient and truly enjoy their jobs. The children like3078818748_108e522cd1_z them. Everyone benefits. But nothing is ever perfect. I spent some time chatting with an exceptional ERW recently. She worked with a 9-year-old boy who is moderately mentally handicapped. He is not unaware of his surroundings. He generally enjoys school. He has a unique and humorous way about him with other children and with certain staff.  Working with this young woman has helped him a great deal. Before her arrival at the school, he was only adding single numbers and working at a very low level in other subjects.  Since her arrival and her persistent patience, he is now able to add triple digits and genuinely enjoys his schoolwork. This woman is the type of ERW every student should have.

There is another ERW in our school who works with this same student.  Usually when this child is with this man he is very unhappy and cries throughout the day.  This ERW often raises his voice r437160_2103070at the child and is very unfair with him. For instance, in our computer lab the student was working independently at his own computer. For whatever reason, this ERW began kicking the student’s chair while he sat behind him.  The student asked the man repeatedly to stop kicking his chair. Finally, the man stood up and took the child’s chair away from him. As a consequence for standing up for himself, the ERW ordered the child to the other side of the computer lab for a time-out.

It gets worseThe boy hails from an abusive home: his father is a former Cripps member; his mother is a drug addict with epilepsy and has frequent seizures in front of him. Abuse at home, abuse at school, this child has nowhere to turn. If it wasn’t for the kind young woman in his life, the boy might never know a moment’s reprieve from unhappinessvictim.

Frequently, this man yells at the student, initiates conflict, then tells the boy he won’t tolerate a bad day with him. It is heart-breaking, unprofessional, and very worrisome. This little boy clearly shows his unhappiness with this ERW yet the school still allows the two to work together on a weekly basis. Fortunately, the young woman is there to comfort this child and to give him much better days. This cannot compensate for the cruelty of the other worker. Watching the little boy walk around crying loudly, displaying evidence of the ERW’s incompetence, is unbearable. Most definitely, I intend to speak kindly to this little boy whenever I see him with this angry, unprofessional worker.

Listen, that job is tough.  It cannot be easy to work with the most challenging children in a school every day. I get it. However every teacher in the school also has to work with the most challenging children in the school every day, and such a lack of professionalism would never be tolerated…..and rightly so. What worries me is that not every child is as lucky as this little boy who has a second, terrific ERW to fight the battles he cannot fight for himself. The administrator has been made aware of the situation, yet the impatient ERW is still assigned to him. I’m not sure how that works. I only know I don’t like it. I know the student doesn’t like it. I also know that when a person who doesn’t like working with children, including one child in his career, might want to question his line of work. Certainly it would be advisable if the administration asked the question.

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