Lipstick Kisses: In Praise of ESE Instructional Assistants

Today was my three-year old’s last day of Pre-K ESE summer school.  (In our school system, it is but three short weeks.)  When we went to pick him up, several of the ladies at the county’s exceptional education school (where the program is housed each summer) came out to tell us how much they loved having him, how sweet he was, and how much they would miss him.  When my husband remarked that Callum’s little cheeks had lipstick marks on them, one went on about how “kissable” he is.  Then the instructional assistant who normally works with Callum during the school year at his home school started laughing and bantering with the ladies from this school about how they needed to back off and they that couldn’t have “her baby”.   Oh yeah.  It warmed this mama’s heart alright.

And it got me to thinking about the role instructional assistants (or if you prefer – teacher’s aides) play in the lives of our special children.  As a teacher, I already knew much we need them in our schools and how they manage to keep things running smoothly.  Yet, they are paid next to nothing.  I’ve known instructional assistants who, after the cost of insurance premiums for their family, receive paychecks of maybe thirty dollars bi-weekly.

But these individuals are an important part of our children’s schools and lives.  This is not to underplay the importance of their regular and exceptional education teachers.  But those teachers are insanely busy crossing T’s and dotting I’s these days.  They struggle to teach the state curriculum while having to plan for a wide variety of accommodations and teaching methods to best reach their students.  Too often, they don’t have the time they would like to have to meet the individual needs of our children during the course of a typical school day.  Not with all the paperwork, meetings, and other silliness imposed upon them by The Powers That Be.

That’s where the instructional aide comes in.  In the elementary school, they are often the ones rocking an overwhelmed child in a corner, feeding those children not yet able to do so, and giving out extra love and hugs.  At the secondary level, they are the ones who jump in to defend a misunderstood child from other students and even faculty.  They are the ones sitting outside at a bench with a child who has just been given a time out, listening and reasoning with them.  They get to know the children individually in ways the overworked and multi-tasked teachers are unable.  Good instructional assistants see themselves as teachers as well and are invaluable.  Yet they aren’t often included in Teacher Appreciation Week.

So today I’d like to say a big thank you to Callum’s instructional assistants and all the dedicated  exceptional education assistants of the world.  Thank you for loving our babies.  Thank you for caring that our children require their crackers and bread to be of a uniform shape.  Thank you for seeing in them the beautiful, loving, and valuable souls we know them to be.  Thank you for making it a little easier to place a defenseless child into the hands of another.  And for lipstick marks.  Especially for those.

You brighten their days and lighten ours.  You are a remarkable blessing indeed.

18 thoughts on “Lipstick Kisses: In Praise of ESE Instructional Assistants

  1. Lisa

    What a great way to honor the assistants! My son’s aides have been nothing less than exceptional–we have been very blessed to have loving, caring, hard-working aides. I hope Callum continues to have such great assistants. A good assistant can make such a difference, especially because teachers are so mired down with all of the other “stuff”.

  2. Brandy

    As an instructional aide in a Special Day Class for students with autism, you’re welcome! For the last 2 years I have had the privilege of working in an awesome class, with some amazing kids. This year I finish my Special Education teaching credential. Having the firsthand knowledge of the job of an instructional assistant will make me a very well rounded teacher.

    Thanks for the nod to a group that usually flies under the radar!

  3. robinbjames

    Instructional Assistants do get paid next to nothing. I was one who didn’t have a paycheck after all the deductions were taken out (at the time I was working for benefits since my husbands were so bad).

    We fall in love with the kids and that keeps us going day after day. Even the kids who can’t talk, use the toilet or feed themselves are amazing. When you get a smile or eye contact from one of these kids it makes your day.

    Yes, we fuss over the really sweet and cute ones, but somehow we love the ones that are the hardest to deal with as well. Because if we don’t love them, if we don’t take the time to care, they can get lost in a system that expects kids to advocate for themselves when they can’t tie their shoes.

    I’m a teacher now. I work with kids who have Mild to Moderate disabilities where there aren’t Instructional Assistants. I find that I spend a great deal of time on social/emotional issues when I am supposed to be doing my planning. It is a shame and I have to work longer hours because of it. I’m not complaining about the work – the connection with the kids is priceless – but since I don’t have an Instructional Assistant I can’t depend on someone else to be there for them.

    Instructional Assistants don’t make a lot of money, but for many school districts their “price” is too high. But seriously, their work is invaluable.

    A parent’s thank you goes a really long way. A little gift at the holidays (one for each person in contact with your kid) is appreciated. A handmade card, photo or other such gift is a treasure. If you can afford it, lunch for the Special Education staff or gift cards ($5 is fine). A surprise treat (cookies, fresh fruit, quick bread) can make an unappreciated Instructional Assistant feel appreciated. And truly that is what most of them need more than anything. Well, besides a raise.

    Thinking about this – any teacher or school staff member would be touched with any gesture. We are being asked to work longer hours with more students for the same pay (in many cases the same pay as 5 years ago). We are under pressure to “prove” increasing academic achievement. We are exhausted at the end of the day and our own kids pay the price. Personally, it is the surprise gestures (not on an Appreciation Day) that mean the most. Since I work with High School students, I don’t expect anything tangible from parents (a thank you email is usually what I get), but I had a student make cupcakes for me. It was a very sweet thing for her to do (she was one student who was having difficulties and I spent a lot of time providing her a chance to talk things out and a safe place to be when she was stressed). She will be forever remembered for taking the time.

  4. Bridget

    Thanks for taking the time to remember these important people in our schools! The aides in my son’s classroom last year were fantastic – they were even the employees of the month. We felt so fortunate to have them in his classroom.

  5. lexilil

    Hear hear! :)

    My son has had the same teaching assistant, Shelley, for four years now, and she’ll be with him when he moves to year 6 after summer. Shes provided stability and continuity when his teachers change and offered to give up time outside of work to support him too. When the head teacher of the secondary school my son will go to came to visit and called for any questions my son asked “Would I have a Shelley at your school?”

  6. Ann Burt

    The biggest smiley face in the world to you! Good to see you posting again, thinking of you and your family and hoping you are surrounded by love.

  7. Lynne Pardi

    As one who has been both the mother of a special needs child and also an instructional assistant, I thank you so much for your astute observations and your heartwarming appreciation of a special group of people who help to make the system work for our kids.

  8. Matthew Riccardi

    Amen sister! I know that every one of Deacon’s assisstants has fallen deeply in love w/him & given much of themself to the cause of bettering his life. One in particular still comes to our house to see him & help us out when we’re in a jam for some help. I say these aides are worth their weight in gold! (and lipstick!)

  9. Joanna K-Velasco

    As an Instructional Aide for 13 years in my district, thank you. I love my job and am thankful I could afford to keep it while my daughter is in school (to keep same schedule and holidays). I am lucky I don’t need insurance since my hubby gets it and my district pays pretty decent for a part time job.

    Every day is a new day and the students keep our life interesting and fun. Typically, the hardest to reach kids are concentrated on and earn our hearts because we can see their potential.I love to see moms’ faces when we tell them how much we love their kids b/c many times these kids are “kicked out” of other programs due to behaviors. Our staff “thrives” on working with behaviors so the kids see it from another angle when they get to us.

    I can’t emphasis how worthwhile it is to get a hand-written note, Starbucks gift card or craft made by the child to show that “yes, we know that you are in the trenches loving our kid!”

    Thanks for the blog.

  10. judithornot

    Instructional aides have made such a wonderful difference for our grandson. Blessings on them indeed!

  11. unlockingdoors

    We love the paraprofessional who worked with our son during Pre-K. She was the one who made drop-off and pick-up such a graceful transaction and you could tell that she genuinly cared about him. Whenever he completed a task, she cheered him on and bragged on him as though he were her own. I’m crossing my fingers she will be with him in Kindergarten.

  12. robinbjames

    Reblogged this on landamongthestars and commented:
    Today I’m sharing a post that I read last week from Flappiness is… (with permission, of course!). I love this post because it speaks volumes about how Educational Assistants are essential to the education of students with special needs.

  13. Marsha

    I am a former Speech Pathologist who was licensed and practiced for 9 years. I stopped working after I had my children. My second son was born profoundly deaf (of all things) secondary to a rare metabolic disease. He had scads of serious, life threatening medical problems. I was told by one geneticist that most children with his disease do not live past one year of age. I was so fortunate to be able to stay home with both of my kids. An enormous part of this involved advocating for my son’s multitude of medical and educational needs.

    Fast forward to now since I could write a book as you parents well know. My son is now 21, thriving and just finished his first year at Gallaudet University (the only liberal arts college for the deaf in the world, in Washington, D.C.). He has beat all odds and has the most wonderful and positive outlook on life of anyone I know. He has a very high Emotional IQ and tremendous people skills.

    Now I have just interviewed for and accepted a position as an Instructional Assistant with young autistic children. As scary as this is, I can’t wait to start a new chapter of my life and loved your blog entry. My experiences are so different now and I really “get it.” I loved the bantering and kissing that Callum received and deserves. That’s exactly what I want to do, make a difference in the lives of the kids and the parents as well!

  14. summerp84

    As a teacher at a special needs school, I know first hand how important my assistants are.. I cannot imagine my life without these wonderful women I work with.. Their love for my students in unconditional and overwhelming. The roles they play in my classroom extend way beyond what is typed up in their contracts. They are special special human beings. And, to our children and to myself, they are angels. Love love love my assistants!! This blog was so perfectly written:)

  15. Jen E.

    What a FABULOUS post! I couldn’t agree more about the paraprofessionals who work with our kids. To see a smiling face warmly greeting my child at his school every single day and genuinely seeing that love for him is absolutely priceless. :)

  16. Brittany Schwaigert

    SO, so true. I always include our assistants in teacher appreciation. They are so, so important and to see the love that they give your babies, just makes you feel so good and that they are taken care of!

  17. Sheila

    My granddaughter’s aides are our angels. I can’t begin to say how much we appreciate them. We have photos of aides that she had years ago that we made as PECS cards, and we get them out and she remembers their names. She doesn’t have a lot of words, even now, but she remembers the names of these incredible women who were by her side every day. Her aides “got” her and loved her at a time when strangers at the store would stare or practically jump out of their shoes if she screeched. That made them precious allies to our whole family and we are forever grateful for their patience, perseverence and gentleness.

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