I am a public post-secondary instructor providing preservice training to Education Assistants (EAs) through a blended model that attracts students from all parts of Vancouver Island, the Sunshine Coast, and sometimes beyond. This program includes 10 courses that are university transferable. Students complete Practica in K-12 schools and for the most part work in those schools upon graduation. Over the last 12 years, I’ve watched the shortage of qualified EAs reach a crisis point caused in part by low pay, poor working conditions, and an under valuing of the EA role. Unable to deal with these root causes, schools and school districts have often addressed the shortage by reducing the qualifications for EA positions. While on the surface, this approach may seem to be a remedy, it is not. The role of EA is complex and challenging and unprepared workers can inadvertently contribute to stressful situations for their students, their colleagues, and themselves. Instead, I believe that recognizing and valuing the important work done by EAs by establishing standards for practice and improved working conditions will attract and retain skilled workers able to contribute to the overall quality of our education system.
Standards of Practice will ensure that EAs begin their career already able to collaborate effectively with teachers, develop student-centered relationships that build on strengths and interests, utilize teaching and learning strategies to meet diverse learning needs, understand and support development of positive social behaviours, and meet the personal and health related needs of individual students. As an integral part of the education team, they will contribute effectively to the creation and implementation of IEPs, and promote the conditions that lead to the successful inclusion of all children.
Standards of Practice will ensure that post-secondary training is comprehensive, and that skills are well-developed and anchored in an understanding of the values and attitudes that promote learning and full inclusion. Standards for practice will ensure that all future EAs come to the job well prepared for their duties and role. Teachers, administrators, and families will then be able to consistently rely on high quality EA support for children and classrooms. I believe this reliability will increase the awareness and value placed on this critical role and over time will improve our education system.
Alison Taplay, Public Post-Secondary Instructor