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Include the EA for Better Student Support

August 30, 2017

I was chatting with the union rep for Educational Assistants (EAs) in a large school district.

I learned that overall, EA’s will be returning to school next week to work with difficult and at times very violent students with no preparation or knowledge as to the needs of those students or plans with regard to managing behavior.

However, educators and other school personnel are meeting this week to plan.

Apparently in some of the more forward thinking schools, the EAs have been invited to attend those planning meetings, and while their colleagues are paid to attend, these EAs are not paid. These EAs will be there out of their goodwill and concern for the students they serve.

In putting themselves out, in accepting to attend these meetings to prepare better for the students they serve, these EAs are doing students and their parents a favour, but there will be a cost. The cost is to the well being of the EA who take themselves away from their loved ones and family for no tangible compensation.

Further, as group they are experiencing a dramatic rise in assaults, workplace injuries and stress. They are seeing a dramatic rise in post-traumatic stress disorder, the result of violent altercations. This not only affects the EA and not only the students they serve, but each and every other student at school who are exposed to violence in their classroom.

If you want safe schools, it is important to support the EA.

  • It is important that they attend meetings concerning the children they are to serve be it before school planning or each and every Individualized Educational Plan meeting.
  • It is important that there be critical incident debriefing after involvement in serious acts of violence.
  • It is important that the Principal as chief administrator create a climate of professional inclusion.

School is starting. Let’s get off to a good start. Let’s remember who people count on to make it safe and let’s make it safe for them too.

Support the Educational Assistant.

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

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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. He consults to mental health professionals as well as to mediators and collaborative law professionals about good practice as well as building their practice.

  1. Ms. D. permalink

    Thanks Gary! Its amazing to have advocates such as yourself. Special Education is in crisis in Ontario and many parents have no clue. Working on the front lines can be both frustrating and exhausting. Many EA’s do feel supported by their administrators but it doesn’t dismiss the fact that the wages are far from what they should be considering the work we do. The Government needs to take a good hard look at special education as a whole and start compensating and respecting the front line workers.

  2. Lori permalink

    Bless you for your support and understanding, Gary. I spent nearly 25 years as an EA, though we have a different label in the US. Over those years, due to the dramatically changing funding of the public schools, I have seen our training opportunities drop from a minimum of three days, to nothing. Principals are not comfortable including us in staff training days, and often say no. I was told that I could not attend conferences or IEP meetings because they often occur after school hours and it would violate the labor laws to allow me to attend at no pay. We are desperate to be prepared, and knowledgeable for our students. We have no voice.

    • Miss Kelly permalink

      Wow! Those meetings happen during the school day here in our school at least but we are never invited or included in discussion or meetings with parents. We aren’t to communicate with the parents at all. I have constant anxiety regarding this, as I am local and do have somemon social media as well as enjoy being personable and chatty. I’m constantly reprimanded. I can’t change who I am for this job. I love the students and feel being communicative and friendly with parents only enhances my job and the students welfare. I’m so tired. I just want to care for these students in the best way possible and be who I am. So frustrating.

  3. Lorie Vankoughnett permalink

    I am an E A and I appreciate this article and your support.

  4. Carole permalink

    Thank you for advocating for both the educational staff, and the needs of the children we serve. As a teacher in a very large Ontario school board I am not paid, nor am I obliged, to be in school working this week either.
    However, as you pointed out, we know that the classrooms need to be prepared to welcome students in a positive manner next Tuesday, AND I need to find out, as best I can from documentation and informal discussions, exactly who these children are.
    The boards do not build in any preparation time for those in the educational front line to ensure a smooth transition back to school for students. September’s can be stressful for many people- little and big- as we try to figure it all out!

  5. Kim permalink

    EA’s, DSW’s, CYW’s and ECE’s it’s not only EA’s

  6. Miss Kelly permalink

    Yes yes yes!!! Thank you for writing this Gary.

  7. Krista permalink

    Finally!!! This is a wonderful article. We are litterllay going in to class with zero information and expected to make sure everything runs without incident. And completely accurate to what support staff have to endure not only at the beginning of a new school year but also throughout the year, as we are not invited to the ongoing meetings regarding the students we support.We always get second hand bits and pieces of what was said in the meetings , and usually that is only that if we ask.
    It amazes me everyday that even though we are the “front line ” worker’s the ones who take the brunt of it all ,yet we are always the last person who is thought of when dealing with our students.We are good enough to hold everything together on a daily basis for and with our students but not good enough to know what’s going on with them ?
    Let’s make a change !!!
    Sincerely, A frustrated support staff.

    • Debra permalink

      It is only wonderful if the right ppl read it or actually care. Which they don’t.

      • Share this article then.. Copy and paste the link in an email to people… Put on Facebook.

        I do suggest that EAs take those actions to self-advocate.

    • I hear you clearly. I too am an EA. We are the frontline workers, and in order to do our jobs correctly, we need to be informed and respected and included in decisions for that child.

  8. Thank you Gary!
    Other things that we need to advocate for include ‘prep time’. Teachers get the opportunity to prep for lessons and make materials – EA’s do not. It’s done on our own time, usually during whatever break we are able to take. Sometimes, meetings are scheduled during our breaks because that is the only time that our student(s) are covered.

    I agree – we need to start self-advocating and loudly!

  9. James Smith permalink

    Being in on the meetings requires a change of thinking from Administration on down. EA’s need to be acknowledged for the professionals they are. Most of us are easily as educated as any classroom teacher. Just in a different field of study. Our expertise is Special Education and our expertise SHOULD be acknowledged. I think most parents are unaware of the full scope of the EA’s role in their child’s education. On paper we are shown to be assistants to the classroom teacher, under the supervision of the Principal. The fact is a good EA is the primary “teacher” for most students with exceptionalities in a classroom they are assigned to. If a good rapport is established with the classroom teacher, there is nothing better then the team approach that develops for the students. EA’s are asked to deal with the educational and behavioural needs of students with varying exceptionalities, yet we are not in on the IEP and Behaviour Plan meetings. I have worked as an EA for over 20 years and can honestly say I have seen very little change in this mindset over the years.

    • wendy cervo permalink

      My words exactly. we are not invited to the mtg’s……….but who knows the needs and behaviour of these children the best. YUP! The E.A.’S

  10. Hilary permalink

    As an EA of 20+ years… I have been assaulted over the years. The problem with “good will and concern” is that it enables school boards to continue to take advantage of EA’S. Knowing this, hinders our importance and necessity in the workplace. Nothing makes that clearer than the minimal amounts of pay increases we have had in let’s say 10 years.
    If we do go forward with WSIB claims we are treated badly so much so that it borders on harassment. I am quite sure you have heard this before, I just wish and encourage all my fellow EA’S to take a stand and our Union (CUPE) to not discourage strikes, but encourage strikes so that our absence would allow parents, educational staff and our government to see and feel the true value of EA’S.

  11. Kathryn Gould permalink

    Hear! HEAR! Thank you for voicing this oversight.

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