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Career Story: Special Education Assistant

Special Education Assistant

Job Title: Teacher Assistant

Type of Company: I work in a public school district.

Education: BS, Education •• Certificate in Landscape Technology

Previous Experience: After graduating with teaching credentials, I worked as a teaching assistant one year and then taught for two years in the special education field. I then took a secretarial job with large computer company and advanced into support group for staff and then software support, and ultimately held a supervisor's position. I had maintenance and labor jobs with a landscaping company and plant nursery. I was a shipping manager at plant nursery. I even owned and ran my own nursery. But I am now back to teaching Special Ed.

Job Tasks: The main goal in our classroom is to help the students learn to do tasks at their ability level. There are eight students ranging from 5 to 10 years of age. Abilities are as widely variant as ages; some children have the ability to walk and speak, some have visual impairments, some have very limited self-help abilities because of severe brain damage or cerebral palsy. Each day includes toileting (many are still in diapers), feeding as some are unable to feed self and require special diets. During "work sessions" each day for 1.5 hours the children are engaged in their level of learning, be it math and spelling, learning colors and letters, controlling their writing, pre-braille, participating in story with communication devices, learning sign language. Self-help skills are also a focus and include brushing teeth, face-washing after lunch, cleaning up one task before moving to next, sitting upright and interacting with another individual (playing ball or following hand motions to a song).

Best and Worst Parts of the Job: The best part is seeing small successes and improvements in each child as the weeks progress. Seeing the smile on their face when they achieve something.

The worst part of the job is that for all the progress the teachers, TA's, therapists (Speech, Physical, Visual, Occupational) might make with the child sometimes the parent doesn't see the benefit and isn't supportive to follow through at home.

Job Tips: Take the opportunity to visit, volunteer or do some trial work in a class program with exceptional children. This type of job is not for everyone. There is a lot of manual and physical labor involved, with lifting, repetition of tasks. Look for the small steps of progress and don't expect a six year old to act or be able to do the typical six year old tasks. Adjust your expectations to the abilities of each child. Be observant of the child.

Additional Thoughts: I love this job, as it is always rewarding. If you could imagine having a body that didn't work well, but having a very sharp mind, but no one ever listened or paid attention to you because they only saw that your body didn't work like theirs....This type of job allows these students to break through and shine in their own way, with the help of professionals looking closely and providing different ways for them to communicate, move, learn and grow.

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