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Not everyone gets to see the impact of their day-to-day work, but an education assistant witnesses the benefits of what they do every single day. It’s a challenging but incredibly fulfilling job when you are able to help students achieve both big and small things that enrich their lives. You may know that working with individuals with disabilities is something you’re interested in, but perhaps you don’t know where to start.
Babysitting or helping with the care of those with disabilities is one way to get a feel for the role, but it isn’t enough to move you into a career as an education assistant (EA). In most cases, it will require an education assistant program to get you on a career track. Not only can an education assistant course assist you in discovering all the different areas an EA might be able to apply their skills but the right education assistant program will also give you the background knowledge, hands-on experience, knowledge and skills you’ll need to make a difference to employers, clients and clients’ family members.
Despite the name education assistant, an EA isn’t confined to a classroom in all cases. Yes, many people who take an education assistant course choose to work with those with disabilities in a school-based classroom setting, but this isn’t the only option for an EA’s career. There is actually quite a broad range of opportunities available to an enthusiastic individual with the right personality and background.
Teachers Aide – Teacher’s aide is the first role that comes to mind in the education assistant field. An education assistant could work in a public school, private school or special needs school to help with the education and behavioural needs of students in a classroom setting. They may also be within a school environment that accommodates special group classes and one-on-one sessions in addition to special after-school learning.
Tasks may also include assisting the teacher with planning duties outside the classroom as well as marking and evaluation.
Tutoring – A natural offshoot of traditional classroom education, tutors may work in the school environment, in students’ homes or at a tutoring facility. These individuals are specifically suited to helping students achieve better results in their traditional education and have ways to work with a wide range of disabilities in order to make learning more accessible. It could include specific subjects like math and language or it may be more life-skills oriented such as communication skills and personal hygiene skills.
Many tutors choose to be self-employed so that they can pick the type of work and type of students they most prefer to work with. There are many tutors who haven’t taken an education assistant program, but this will definitely limit their job growth and opportunities if they wish to progress in the field.
Autism and other disability-specific support – In many cases, an individual with Autism or another disability will require in-home support that can cover life-skills, behavioural assistance, traditional education and even day-to-day support. By taking an education assistant course that covers various disabilities and the specifics of them, an EA will be well prepared to take on a diverse range of roles required by these individuals and their families. In some cases, the EA may be employed by a day-school environment, drop-in sessions, or a group home depending upon the family’s situation and needs.
Employment may come from private families, disability-specific groups, government programs or other sources.
Respite care – When a family includes an individual with special needs, there is often a requirement for caregivers to take a break away from their daily responsibilities. This is where respite care can come in. This is perhaps the least like in-class education because respite care involves meeting the day-to-day needs of students but may also include some traditional education.
The role of respite care may be in private care homes for children, youth or adults, government agencies or in private homes. Many of these roles are shift-work and require 24-hour availability and comfort with a wide range of disabilities and situations.
Not every education assistant’s role requires post-secondary education, but most do and certainly, those who wish to progress in their careers will need to have a base education in order to move them along their journey into more advanced roles and education. Options are diverse and for those with busy lives, a flexible education program is key. Look for a school that offers training from an instructor with hands-on experience in a range of areas in the field and classes available both in-person and through online methods. This expertise and flexibility will ensure you get the education you need in a way that fits your life.
Some education assistant programs include a practicum component which is ideal to get you started in your career. Not only does this experience allow you to tell prospective employers about your work experience, but it also allows you to determine which aspects of the field are a fit and which are not. This gives you the option to select the area within the education assistant realm which is right for you.
Start looking on job boards for job descriptions that sound like the right fit. Before applying, reach out to the network you created in your education assistant course and ask the instructor and your colleagues if they are familiar with the organization or the role so that you can find out more. If there is a connection, this may help you learn what is really needed in the job and determine if it’s the right one to apply for. While you can always change jobs later if it isn’t the right fit, you want to get the best exposure and experience possible from every job you take. Remember to build strong, positive relationships with your students and their families as these people may be able to give a positive reference in the future should you decide to change jobs.
The work of an education assistant can be challenging and navigating the career has its own issues as well in finding the right fit. In the end, however, all of the experiences are immensely rewarding and will lead to the right career choices and the ability to know you made a difference in the lives of students.