In My Shoes: Special Education Instructional Assistant

Posted on: Thu, 01/18/2018 - 09:00 By: lisa.newcomer

SEIAs do so much for our students. Teachers, students, and parents recognize the impact they have on student achievement.

As a brand new teacher in 1981, I was excited to get my classroom ready and meet my colleagues as staff headed back to school. I was assigned to a Level 5 school, which, back in the day, meant a separate facility just for special education students. I soon learned that three instructional assistants would be supporting me and my students; two of those assistants were former teachers, and one had been working as an instructional assistant longer than I had been alive. Pretty intimidating for a rookie teacher!

I quickly learned how valuable those assistants were to both me and my students. And I know the same is true today. In FCPS, we have over 600 special education instructional assistants (SEIAs). Their work is as varied as the experience they bring to classrooms across the county every day. Whether supporting a student in an inclusive classroom or working with a small group of students or assisting a student with limited mobility at Rock Creek School, these dedicated men and women make a difference in the lives of our special needs students and their teachers.

photo of Brady RidenourTrust is critically important in the role of SEIAs. Teachers, administrators, parents, and students trust that the SEIA will support the instructional goals for the student, establish a positive relationship with the student, and find a way to balance the help provided with nurturing independence in the student. I recently heard from Brady Ridenour, an SEIA at New Market Middle School. FCPS also recognized Brady as last year’s SEIA of the Year – a major honor.

He confirmed what I knew from my own experience: trust between an SEIA and a student is paramount. “I feel my job is important because the kids I work with need help in certain aspects during their day; and I’m there to help with anything they may need.” Brady works every day to build a bond with his students. He’s doing exactly what we talk about in the FCPS strategic plan when we say that we expect our SEIAs to be “champions of excellence.” Brady and his colleagues deliver. The trust we all place in them is well earned.

The bonds that great SEIAs form with their students can also last beyond their time together in a classroom. Brady shared a story with me about the lasting impact he had with one of his students:

A couple years ago, I had a student who couldn't decide what high school to go to (his family circumstances left him with a couple of options). I was encouraging him to go to Catoctin because not only am I an alumni but he was deeply interested in farming; the FFA at Catoctin has a lot to offer. I was attending a football game this year at Catoctin and ran into the student. We talked and I asked him how school was going. He was really excited to tell me all the stuff he was doing with the FFA and how well he was doing in school. And he thanked me for helping him make the right decision. That made me very proud!

Our SEIAs impact the entire school community in many ways – covering classes, attending special events, supervising students at lunch, attending field trips, and offering a smile to any student who needs one! It is no wonder that we are so delighted when an SEIA chooses to enter the teaching profession. Their job has provided the best hands-on training possible!

Do you know a great SEIA? Share a little about them on Twitter @FCPSMDSuper. And if you enjoyed this post, please feel free to share it on Facebook or Twitter.