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.