The Hamilton Spectator
It’s a wonder we have any educational assistants at all
They deserve our respect and fair compensation
As a retired educational assistant, I was saddened and angered by the recent story about the young boy with special needs who is being sent home due to a lack of EAs to get him through his day at school.
This child, like every other, has a right to be in a classroom. It is not a coincidence that there are not enough educational assistants. It is the result of years of bad planning and cynical cost-cutting on the part of school boards and governments, who have made the very worthy and noble job of EA into a sacrifice for anyone willing to take it on.
After multi-year training for the job, at their own expense and on their own time, an EA is offered an hourly pay of about $40,000 per year. It’s pretty easy to do the math and to see that even reasonable rent will eat most of that, and home ownership is not even a possibility. Without a second job or a spouse for support, being an educational assistant is the fast track to poverty; forget a new-ish car or a trip to anywhere, or any luxury on that pay.
On the job, EAs find themselves as convenient shelves to hide specialneeds kids. How else to explain the large number of individual EAs who are expected to care for multiple high-needs kids at once? Can you provide real progress to more than one frustrated, flight-risk, non-communicative and frequently violent kid at a time? While wearing arm and shin guards? And preventing disruption to the rest of the class? Can you push two wheelchairs at once? I can’t. And yet the powers-that-be pretend to the parents that their child is being accommodated. And when one of those kids makes a fuss or breaks something, everyone rolls their eyes, “Why isn’t that EA controlling that kid?”
An EA’s work day is ostensibly based on a standard eight-hour shift, but even that is a shell game. When an EA sits down to eat lunch, often after being attacked, changing a diaper, removing the body armour to relax for half an hour, they are taken “off the clock” while they eat. Everyone else in the building has the standard paid lunch. Welcome to the insulting world of the bottom of the pay scale.
When there aren’t enough fulltime EAs or an inconvenient pandemic slashes their numbers, the board offers “Occasional EA” opportunities of EA employment, at even lower pay and reduced benefits, and we wonder why aren’t there enough EAs?
Every kid with special needs deserve quality support; real time with a professional who can nurture their progress, not spend each day chasing and putting out fires. It’s our responsibility as a society to support these kids and their families, not to scrimp and pretend.
Working EAs deserve a decent compensation, and the real opportunity to do what they have trained for.
The real wonder in all of this is not why there aren’t enough educational assistants to go around: it’s why there are any at all.