Career Story: Teaching Assistant In A School With Emotionally Disabled Kids

Teaching Assistant In A School With Emotionally Disabled Kids

Job Title: Instructional Assistant

Type of Company: I work for a school district in suburban Washington, DC.

Education: University of Kansas

Previous Experience: I worked as IT sales support for three years and prior to that managed a network for a large national title company. Prior to being trained in information technology, I managed apartment complexes with 300 - 500 units.

Job Tasks: I support a middle-school math and science teacher in a school for emotionally-disabled students. An instructional assistant (IA) doesn't prepare the lesson plans, but she has to be able to carry them out in the teacher's absence. But in a school for emotionally-disabled students, she'll spend much more of her time encouraging and consoling them than actually teaching. Indeed, for the emotionally-disabled, a "successful" day in school can mean simply not crying, or not fighting: being able to sit through a class without disrupting the teacher and students. Many of the emotionally-disabled with whom I deal also come from impoverished or single-parent homes and the nurturing they get from teachers and assistant teacher is the only real attention that's lavished on them.

Best and Worst Parts of the Job: The best part of an IA's job is watching students learn to do things. Something as ephemeral as a smile from one of these students can tide an IA through a difficult time.

The worst part of the job is having to discipline students who really can't help their behavior. Whether they're mad, frightened, frustrated or bored, they can only express it by screaming, cursing, throwing things or (at the other end of the spectrum) shutting down. The IA often has to escort students out of the classroom so teaching can continue.

Job Tips:
1.) Do not take the insults from students personally. This is simply how they cope; they rarely intend what they say.

2.) Start every class with a clean slate and don't hold grudges.

3.) Learn to laugh at yourself so the kids can learn to laugh at themselves.

Additional Thoughts: If you don't have patience, don't become an instructional assistant for the emotionally-disabled. They need patience, structure, love, understanding, fairness and a kind and listening ear. If the students are successful, you'll have succeeded.

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