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Career Story: Teacher's Assistant In A Special Needs Classroom

Teacher's Assistant In A Special Needs Classroom

Job Title: Assistant Teacher

Type of Company: I work for a non-profit, private, special-needs school in a Virginia suburb.

Education: BA, Political Science, UC-Santa Barbara

Previous Experience: I worked part-time as an art instructor at a pre-school for two years, and I was also the director of a pre-school for two years.

Job Tasks: The school day, which lasts from 8:15 to 3:30, is broken into half-hour segments. On a typical day, I begin by greeting students at the bus and escorting them to the classroom. They then start their studies with either math or reading. If the teacher asks me to (or happens to be absent), I will sometimes teach the lesson, but this is uncommon and it is her responsibility, in any case, to prepare the lesson plan. After math or reading we move on to science, where I often prepare and conduct the experiments. After a short recess, we have writing followed by lunch, which we eat in the classroom. We then have a social studies period, another short recess and either phys. ed. or art. At the end of the day, I escort the students back to the bus and see to it that they all get aboard.

My responsibilities are primarily to assist the teacher. But I can do this in a variety of ways; I've graded papers, prepared lessons, purchased supplies, communicated with parents and even taught class. Most often, though, I go to them in class when they raise their hands and help them in whatever way I can. My students range in age from 12-15 years old and have both physical and mental disabilities, and two of the things you need most for the job are patience and a sense of humor.

Best and Worst Parts of the Job: The thing that keeps me coming back to the job is the feeling I get when a student masters a problem, or when he lights up at the sight of me. At times such as those, I get a feeling of accomplishment that borders on joy.

The job is least enjoyable when students get physical or verbally abusive. This job's a tiring one anyhow, but it can also be emotionally draining.

Job Tips: I would take a class or two in the field of special needs education. I would substitute teach in special needs classrooms, or volunteer in a class to see if you like working with this student population. I would also talk with special needs teachers, and ask them the questions that you have, and ask if you can sit in their class and observe.

Additional Thoughts: If you are looking for your students to make gigantic strides, this is not the right group to be teaching. You have to be able, with these kids, to take delight in measuring success in small increments. The success is no less meaningful, but it is harder to see.

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