My wife has a very difficult job, an overabundance of compassion and unbelievable patience. I marvel at her commitment to her work on a daily basis. However, it's around this time every school year when both compassion and patience begin to wear thin and with good reason. She has been an educational assistant or EA at one of two schools in our city for over 10 years. She works on an under-staffed team in an integrated public school (Kindergarten to Grade 8) classroom with several children who have a wide variety of special needs. The program is meant to integrate these children into a "standard" school environment. Currently, her team of three is responsible for working with 10 students, but there have been times when she alone haz been responsible for 9 high needs children on her own. There is nothing "standard" about the environment she works in.
Over the course of her career, the children in her care have included those with cerebral palsy (CP), various levels of Autism Spectrum Disorder, Down syndrome, Prader Willi syndrome, spina bifida, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), ADD and ADHD. The more recent proliferation of these syndromes and disorders in children has been well documented. Each of these children has his or her own unique set of needs. Some are low-functioning or have other cognitive impairments. Some have motor skills issues or are confined to wheelchairs. Some require full-time nursing care due to the need for a feeding tube, the administering of medications or other medical needs. Some are higher-functioning and are well-positioned to learn, but are in need of a some extra attention. However, of late, my wife reports spending more time in the bathroom diapering students, than doing any teaching. She and her colleagues don't have time to do their actual job.
Many special needs children exhibit a wide range of behaviours, which can be triggered at any moment. Some are violent and pose a significant safety risk to other students, school staff and themselves. It is not uncommon for a child to "clear" a classroom by tossing chairs, desks and other objects. Occasionally, EAs find themselves in the line of fire. Earlier this year, my wife suffered a mild concussion when she was struck in the head by a student's casted arm. Not the first time she's been injured at work.
In my opinion, the system currently in place, which is meant to promote inclusivity for children with special needs, is doing a disservice both to them and to those students without special needs. There are increasingly stories in the news about kids who are scared to go to school because of the violence they've encountered there. There simply aren't enough resources available to deal with the influx of special needs students; and in our province it's about to get worse as funding is being cut for private special needs care. Those students who are higher functioning, but require additional help so they can progress and become more self-sufficient are not getting it.
All of the above is frustrating for my wife and so many other teachers and care givers in her position. Never mind the fact they are compensated at a rate which is roughly 1/3 of a "regular" teacher. This is an entirely separate issue for another time.