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Education Assistants need more support in Alberta

Posted on March 14, 2024 by Sunny South News

I am a retired Education Assistant of 36 years. My experience has been from ECS to Grade 12 and a school librarian.

What I have experienced is the lack of recognition of those of us who work with students who need assistance and the difference we make towards students’ success. Some students need extra help, and the teacher relies on educational assistance to be there.

An education assistant might be assigned to many different classes (especially in Jr. and Sr. High School) that require the educational assistant to know the curriculum and be proficient in the subjects of English, Social Studies, Science, and Math. Many teachers teach their preferred subject for many years, but educational assistants must have that knowledge in all subjects to be effective for the students.

Educational assistance develops a relationship with the students that they are interacting with and by building up their confidence, their willingness to attend school (even though it’s frustrating) and keep trying. I have had many students come up to me and say, “You are the reason I graduated, thank you.”

In the case of students who have great needs, they can at times become frustrated, confused, and violent toward the Educational Assistant and others. These students can bite, kick, hit, pull hair, scream, and run away. There is usually no recourse for an educational assistant but to duck. This behaviour is found in both elementary, junior, and senior high school, the only difference is the size and strength of the student.

There are also the added student numbers in an already crowded classroom of foreign students. I have personally assisted 1 to 5 students from Brazil, Columbia, China, and France.

These students require a lot of help and their parents have paid a high amount of money for them to attend a Canadian school and expect to be educated while attending. There is no hiring of another assistant for these students. The teacher has no other choice except to take the educational assistant who works in the room to assist these students.

The money which was paid for the foreign student typically does not come to the schools. I am still in touch with some of these students, and I’m proud to say they are doing great.

Local schools in the community have no say, but do all the work for their students, the school districts ( School Boards) have other agendas. However, the Provincial Government’s greatest desire is votes and power! This is where the parents (on mass) have the power to have students supported in the schools and Educational Assistants earn a living wage.

I believe the majority of Educational Assistants are women whose wages are second income or single parents who can only work school hours if they have children as they could never afford childcare. There is a need for male assistants which are very far and in between in the school systems due to the low wages in fact, below the poverty line which is $26,550 and Educational assistants make $26,388!

 Educational Assistants help students have the chance to see success.

Give our dedicated and caring assistants a living wage, which should be for all people who work and stop them from having to go to a food bank, or charities and be able to live their lives respectfully.

I hope that the provincial government will see that there is a great advantage to having Educational Assistants in all areas for the betterment of all students.

Micki Gerstenbuhler,
Picture Butte, Alta.

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