All parents should be informed: Do You Know What’s Going on in Your Student’s Classroom?
When an Educational Assistant gets injured, odds are it was witnessed by multiple students. What are students seeing and experiencing in today’s classroom? Beyond the violence, what else is affecting students in the classroom? Here is what EAs want all parents to know:
Unbeknownst to the public, Educational Assistants (EAs) suffer the greatest number of lost time injuries (LTIs) out of the top ten occupations were injuries are sustained. An LTI is a workplace injury that results in a loss of time from the workplace. As you can imagine that means the injury has to be significant enough so as to take the worker out of the workplace. The length of time out of the workplace can be as little as a day up to including those persons who would qualify for long term disability. In other words, these are not simple bruises or scrapes.
In addition to LTIs, Educations Assistants work with students whose issues are often less academic and more often behavioral. In terms of behavior, EAs are routinely assaulted, spit at, hit, pinched and bitten. They have to deal with bodily fluids, most often urine and feces. Many EAs must wear “Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to remain safe while working in close proximity to the student under their instruction.
PPE (personal protection equipment) for support workers in education has included, but is certainly not limited to, gloves, arm guards, and shin guards—all to protect from pinching, scratches, punches, kicks and biting. Chest protectors of different materials are used to protect workers from kicks, bites, punches, and scratches to the trunk of the body. Smocks protect from bodily fluids, and helmets are sometimes used to protect from punches, head butting and hair pulls. There are also facial masks to protect workers from being spat upon, punched in the face, scratched or bitten. The use of PPE is covered in the Ontario Health and Safety Act under the Health Care and Residential Facilities and Industries section, but not specifically for education workers.
During a workshop to EAs in 2016, the EAs in attendance identified those issues as well as several more. In a more recent keynote address to some 800 EAs of the Educational Assistant Association of the Waterloo Region District School Board, a show of hands poll indicated that some 90% of those in attendance also experienced the issues identified the year prior by the first group.
Common to an overwhelming majority of EAs, on both occasions concern was expressed for the impact of those issues not only on the students served by EAs, but on the other students whose education takes place in the same classrooms as is common practice.
EAs identified concern for students not only witnessing regularly occurring acts of violence in the classroom, but concern for the physical harm that could befall the student during a violent outburst by a student with behavioral issues.
The issues identified seem to remain a well kept secret. Neither the parents of the students served by EAs nor the parents of the other students in the classroom are all aware of these situations. To add, there is tremendous stress on the EAs themselves the result of these situations.
It is advisable for all parents to know the issues identified by EAs and it is also important for EAs to develop the skills of self-advocacy.
The issues identified at an alarming number were:
- EAs have limited to no prior background information about the students assigned to their supervision;
Some students receiving EA services have considerable background issues and diagnosis where access to that information can facilitate the role of the EA. EAs are regularly told they cannot have access to that information leaving many feeling they are flying blind or trying to be supportive with one hand tied behind their back. While there are many reasons as to how or why this occurs, it may indeed be shortsighted from a student support perspective. It may also place the EA at risk of harm when a student with a propensity to violence is unidentified. In addition to being an educational issue, it may also be a health and safety issue.
- EAs have limited to no collaborative involvement with fellow EAs or other teaching staff assigned to the same students, but working in other classrooms;
EAs in the high school setting may work with several different students throughout the course of the day as the students rotate through their various classes. This also means that the same student, who is assigned the services of an EA, may be subject to the service of 4 or 5 different EAs throughout the day. If the EAs and teaching staff or special education staff do not conference together and form a unified educational plan and behavioral approach, then the likelihood of success may be diminished. EAs expressed a desire for greater collaboration to enable better coordinated educational and behavioral plans where all their input can be utilized to the benefit of the student.
- EAs identified that students who have extra funding for added support are in part having their funding used to provide support to other students;
Several EAs reported that some students present with greater needs than others. In those situations additional funding may be directed specifically towards a single student. However, given other funding constraints, the funding directed to the single individual is at times used to support the needs of other students. This undermines the intent of funding the student who was requiring of this additional support.
- EAs identify a heavy administrative burden without the infrastructure to carry out those duties;
Not uncommon in today’s world of increased accountability, reporting obligations have increased in many institutional setting. EAs report that while reporting obligations have increased, the time to meet those obligations has remained the same. This creates a conflict of time impossible for the EA to resolve. This creates an added layer of stress and anxiety as the EA seeks to be accountable and of service to students.
In terms of self-advocacy, EAs are advised to;
- Document their requests to attend educational planning meeting regarding the students under their supervision;
- Document any requests to alter or restrict their official documentation of incidents or injuries;
- Approach administration with solutions to issues identified;
- Speak out about their experiences using social media to directly inform parents and the general public about these issues affecting all students in the classroom today.
As parents, what do you do?
- Talk with your son or daughter.
- Ask about their experience in the classroom, beyond their homework.
- Ask what goes on and if they have ever witnessed a student acting out. If so, get them to describe what they saw.
- If your son or daughter ever witnessed an act of violence or serious behavioral acting out, ask if it frightened them and if anyone ever talked with them about it.
- Advocate for more funding and better resources to meet the needs of students with special needs.
These days, the place we believe our children to be most safe from harm, may be the place where they actually witness the greatest number of violent events.
Please note, this is not to cast any disrespect or disregard for students who require additional services. It is just that the question must be asked, “Are those students appropriately resourced and if not, how does that affect all students?” This is an issue for all parents.
Schools need to be appropriately resourced for the benefit of all students as well as worker safety.
If you want other parents to read this post, then “share” it on your social media with the links below and leave a comment informing them of your thoughts on this issue.
For more information about the above, feel free to access the following material:
PowerPoint presentation for my Keynote address the Educational Assistant Association of the Waterloo Region District School Board (April 7, 2017): Self Advocacy and Personal Wellness
Blog post of February 2, 2016 describing my workshop to EAs.
A transcript of an appeal report of a decision made by the Ontario Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB).
Consistent with this blog, this news article.
I am Gary Direnfeld and I am a social worker. Check out all my services and then call me if you need help with a personal issue, mental health concern, child behavior or relationship, divorce or separation issue. I am available in person and by Skype.
Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW
Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Dundas and Georgina Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America.
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Read: Marriage Rescue: Overcoming ten deadly sins in failing relationships.