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Special education assistant is one of the fastest-growing education-based occupations in Canada, with about 5110 job openings expected in the next ten years in BC alone. These openings will arise due to economic growth and the replacement of retiring workers. The continuing integration of special needs students with mainstream schools and the increasing number of education programs outside of the standard school system are also important drivers for this growth.
It takes particular individuals with a diverse set of skills to work in the field, and those who do possess the right temperament and attitude, only enhance their career prospects by earning a special education assistant diploma.
Doing an education assistant course improves an individual’s awareness of the industry, the types of people they will be working with and the various jobs in the field. If you’re thinking about this career and are considering taking an education assistant course, the first step will be to determine if you’re the right fit and are ready to take steps to become an education assistant.
While there are many skills needed as a special education assistant, we’ve taken a look at the top five that will position you for success.
1. Communication. In any job, communication is a key skill, but for special education assistants, it’s imperative. This includes speaking, active listening, reading comprehension and writing. You will be working with a variety of individuals who have a range of communication skills: from the classroom teacher to parents and the special needs individual you are helping. That individual may not communicate verbally or may express their needs in different ways. Therefore you must always be prepared to work in a range of communication styles to align with the special needs student. You’ll be delivering verbal and written reports to the classroom teacher, and much of this will be passed along to the parents and family.
2. Social perceptiveness. According to Work BC, this skill is defined as “Being aware of others’ reactions and understanding why they react as they do.” As a special education assistant, this is another essential skill that will allow you to create a stronger relationship with the individuals you directly work with. Because special needs students often have unexpected ways of expressing themselves or may struggle to communicate in standard ways, there are behaviours and responses that you will need to learn to identify and interpret. Once you pick up on these cues, you’ll be able to better support and help the students advance in their education. You will be required to be constantly looking for ways to help others – whether that is the student, the classroom teacher or the parents and family of the special needs student.
3. Instruction combined with active learning. This skill is necessary for any classroom situation. As a special education assistant, you will be helping with the standard classroom lessons as well as those identified for the special needs students. Having this skill means that you can teach others how to do certain things, but with an understanding of their learning process. You’ll need to choose the right tools and methods specific to the individual and the lesson. This combines with the ability to monitor progress, while also looking for new ways to move forward and building on those successes.
4. Critical thinking and problem-solving. There will be times when you will need to apply reasoning and logic to situations to identify the potential outcomes of different solutions. For example, if a student hasn’t responded well to a particular video or a lesson, you will have to find an alternate solution to teach them the same concept using a different method. There will be many times you won’t fully understand the problem or have an answer but with experience and practice you will know what to do in that situation.
5. Time management. Your time as a special education assistant will be spent working with special needs students in a classroom environment and helping them understand the concepts assigned by the teacher. This will include adapting the lessons to different formats and helping the teacher with lesson planning as needed. You will also be observing and assisting with behaviours and individual needs both in the classroom as well as outside of it. Therefore, time management of critical importance here. You will need to ascertain which tasks need to be prioritized and go about checking those things off your checklist.
Apart from these top five skills, there are a few other traits that will allow you to do well as a special education assistant. Patience is one of them, as is the ability to stay calm. When a student has the potential to be volatile, your patience will be tested regularly, thus being able to remain calm in the face of it will allow you to look at the situation from a different perspective and make better decisions.
Special education assistants should also be cheerful, positive and believe strongly in the benefits of integrating special needs students into mainstream environments. A good sense of humour is also beneficial, as is the ability to see the best in every situation. You’ll need to be someone who can “roll with the punches,” so to speak, meaning that as circumstances change, you change with them, adapt and quickly come up with a new plan.
If you’re taking a special education assistant course any time soon, analyze your skill sets, motivations and so on. Do your research on the industry and job responsibilities and truly take a moment to figure out whether you would like to pursue this career seriously. If you do decide to go forth, you’d be working with some of the most amazing, gifted children.