Although I am currently on leave from my job, I keep in touch with my peers through social media and otherwise. This step back has given me a different perspective and not always an upbeat one.
People in special education have an incredibly difficult job and oftentimes their/our work involves being injured by students. This is not to say that students purposefully hurt those who support them (although this does happen), but nevertheless, it happens.
Yesterday, I caught a bit of a radio program that was discussing the legalities of being injured on purpose. I do not know the entire back story, but apparently two young people had agreed to fight and one of them had been injured (I know, right? That’s a whole other story for a whole other day). It appears it had gone to court and the courts, not surprisingly, said that one cannot agree to be injured. Makes sense.
The exception to this, though, is if you are agreeing to be injured for a socially valuable reason. The commentators on the show talked about boxing as an example where you could agree to participate in something and be injured because it is ‘socially valuable’. I have a different view on the social value of boxing, but okay.
It got me thinking. In special education, teaching/educational assistants get hurt frequently. And more often than not, they are told that ‘it’s part of your job’. So, if we use that argument, then I guess we are using the argument that people are ‘agreeing to be injured for a socially valuable reason’. As an educational worker, I don’t recall reading in my contract or at signing that I was agreeing to be injured, but it is, perhaps, an unwritten understanding that supporting students with special needs, whether they are physical, intellectual, or behavioural, will inherently have a risk of injury.
If I go along with that (which apparently I did for over a decade) then here’s my question:
If I was injured due to a socially valuable reason – taking care of society’s most vulnerable students – then why didn’t the government reward me for the social value that I brought to the school system? In the last set of negotiations, not only were benefits taken away, but the government enlisted the media in maligning education workers, implying we were only interested in money.
Just to clarify, we are not. We are interested in a fair wage for A SOCIALLY VALUABLE day’s work.
A good friend of mine was head butted by a student at work last year. The result was a broken nose. (It is mind-boggling that she goes to work and gets injured and that is an expectation.) She deserved support and fair compensation for her work. Her student also deserves to have the support they need. These are not mutually exclusive. My friend and her student are both socially valuable.
Early childhood educators, teaching/educational assistants, child and youth workers, all are people involved in incredibly challenging, often rewarding but wholly misunderstood careers. I hope that in this round of negotiations with the government that someone on the government side of the table steps up and takes the reins on negotiations, someone with an inkling of what a civil society is: a society that proclaims that supporting the most vulnerable members is a pillar of that same society. In order to do this, the government needs to support, and appropriately compensate and recognize, the people who do that work on a day-to-day basis.