Education is an ornament in prosperity and a refuge in adversity.
Those of you
bored by following my “career” know all my valiant attempts have not led to a full time teaching position. Last summer, after having no interviews for any jobs I applied for, I started looking for full time instructional aide position.
The upside: stability
The downside: low pay
I received interview requests. When I went to these interviews I found out that I was competing with other teachers. Several years ago, people without college degrees were aides. Today they are certified teachers with Master’s Degrees.
By the end of August, I had two job offers—one for an extended term sub for a special education teacher on maternity leave and the other for a professional aide job. I took the latter.
It was hard to be back in a position without control of my own classroom. But the last few years have been all about hard.
I’m lucky. A wonderful teacher runs the classroom I work in. She treats me like a teacher instead of sending me to make photocopies all day. Based on her lead, the students accept me as an authority as well. I’m the only aide in my grade with my name next to the teacher’s on the door.
If I don’t find a job next year, I’ll be doing this again (as long as there’s $ for me in this district. Let’s hope there is). I could be placed in any classroom, with any teacher. Knowing this makes me appreciate my current situation even more.
My official ‘boss’ is the special education teacher. She has me busy. Because one student in the class has behavior/socialization issues, I follow the students to all specialists (music, art, language) and lunch/recess. The other class periods, I help the inclusion students who need academic support. I wear many hats. Sometimes I rotate around the room, helping anyone who needs it. Other times I work with a group of low performers. There are times I help just one or two students. Because I need to watch the student at recess, it means I squeeze in lunch alone during an academic period. This makes me feel guilty because there are kids who need help, but I’m not there. And sometimes I have to wait for the verdict while special ed. and general ed. figure out what I’ll be doing next.
When I decided to return to school to get a Master’s in Special Education, I did so with reluctance. I wanted to be a Social Studies teacher. What if getting this degree meant I wound up as a different kind of teacher?
But now that I’m helping children on Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) I realize I’m good at this. Instinctually, I get how to reach them during reading group. Even better, I struggled in math, so when I teach them, I have strategies that WORK. I can REACH THEM.
One example was teaching long division. If the students had to divide 42 into 225, they didn’t know whether to put the 42 into 2, 25, or 225. How could I make it obvious to them? I said, “If I’m a size 42, can I squeeze into a little size 2 pair of pants?” They shook their heads. “If I’m a size 42, can I squeeze into a size 22 pair of pants?” They shook their heads again. “If I’m a size 42, can I fit into a roomy pair of 225 pants?” They agreed.
Just so you know, I do this complete with body movements.
From that moment on, they used the pants trick to figure out the answer.
Another example is when I read The Witches by Roald Dahl with struggling readers. Two students read with no inflection, made every sentence run into the next without pause and spoke so quietly I could barely hear them. When we got to the part with the Grand High Witch, I hammed up that Eastern European accent. When it was the students’ turn to read, I insisted on them exaggerating the voice loudly. Those two students’ fluencies and volume have improved ever since.
My favorite example is a student who always wears a vacant expression during math. If she’s in my group, I catch her staring into space. After a few absences, they had me work one on one with her to catch her up on fractions. That special attention transformed her. A few days later when she joined my group, she was engaged, the first to raise her hand, and KNEW WHAT SHE WAS DOING.
She beamed. I beamed.
I revel in those moments. Their successes are my successes. Even if they forget half of it the next day (because they have problems with memory retention) I reached them in the moment. They felt proud when it made sense. And I’m proud of them.
I’m not making a lot of money (sorry, husband). But I am doing something important.