Educational workers being harmed: not a news flash but a daily reality

Educational workers being harmed: not a news flash but a daily reality

Although there have been recent alarming news articles in the GTA, it is not a recent occurrence that educational assistants (EA) are being harmed in their day to day work. Unions who support these workers have been speaking out for years and years on this issue. Since legislation was put in place in Ontario in the early 1980s to integrate students with disabilities into mainstream schools, education frontline workers have been hurt. The funding to properly support students and those workers continues to be abysmally insufficient and the problem deepens every year. That is why the frequency and severity of educational assistants being injured is rising and doing so at an alarming rate. 

It is important to stress: students with special needs are not to blame. Certain disabilities have a component in which the cognitive abilities of students are impaired or affected and therefore the idea of ‘blame’ or ‘ability to understand the consequence’ is not appropriately placed on those students. There are mainstream and special education students who do purposefully and with full understanding harm staff and/or other students; that is a whole different situation and not part of this discussion.

The students I am referencing may not know how to deal with and express their frustrations/anger/pain/needs in a way that is understood by even the most caring of individuals in the role of educational assistant. 

Here’s an oversimplified explanation: The student has a request made or expectation placed on them – perhaps putting on their outdoor shoes for recess. This is the antecedent, the expectation that causes that frustration/anger/pain/need in the student.

The student is unable to meet the request: they don’t understand what is being asked; their shoes bother them; the shoes are not lined up the way they like them – whatever is the roadblock for the student to meet the request. As the student cannot express or perhaps does not understand the reason they cannot meet that expectation or request, they ‘act out’ – they throw themselves on the floor, throw something, or lash out. This is the behaviour. 

The consequence is what comes next: if the request/expectation is dropped (the EA is injured and now is not requesting the student put on their shoes), then the student is no longer frustrated/in pain/angry/in need of escape from the request they cannot meet. Therefore, harming the people charged with supporting them is one possible route to meeting the need to escape the situation. 

In a perfect world, educational assistants have the time to observe students, find out their triggers – what causes frustrations and how to teach the student effective coping techniques. With time and dedicated energy to that one student, a skilled educational assistant can discern what is the best way to support the student and teach them the skills needed to function in school and society. 

This is not a perfect world. 

The ‘blame’ is not the students. Nor is it the person working to support them. 

Educational assistants have multiple students, often over multiple classrooms and they are expected to work with them concurrently. This is on top of duties like school wide supervision; bus duty; toileting; lifting; feeding – the list goes on.

In this imperfect world, these same educational assistants are frequently made out as the villains. They are “not doing their jobs” because they are not ‘managing’ their students.

The people on the front lines taking this abuse are some of the lowest paid people in provincially funded sectors. And yet, they show up and take the abuse that few other professionals would ever be expected to endure. 

Is special education underfunded? You bet. And there are a slew of other unaddressed factors. But money is a big part of it and not just in special education: take money out of the education system anywhere and it’s going to put pressure downward onto the most vulnerable students and staff. 

When did educating students become a business model?

Oh right; when educational funding became a bottom line item and not based in the reality of the classroom.

So, news reports are coming out about educational assistants being injured at work yet again. Will that bubble up the chain and land in the hearts and minds of Ontario politicians? 

I’m an educational realist. The only way things will change is if the voting public gets behind the issue of underfunding and takes care of the most vulnerable people in society. 

Inspiration 

Inspiration 

When your children are born, you hope you can be a role model and good parent. 

When your children are out in the world, you hope they take the foundation you laid and find their happy place and live the life they want. 

Basically, you hope you don’t mess up. 

Today, the youngest of my children turns 25. Our roles these days are often reversed; blurred lines abound. She inspires me and encourages me with her focus and drive. A prime example was a few days ago when she woke up with a nasty head cold and still got on her bike and rode 122 km in the pouring rain, up and down (mostly up!) mountains from Vancouver to Whistler. She was cheered on by her amazing family of friends, the like minded, good people she has surrounded herself with over the past several years. She set this goal some time ago and participated with her dad. He felt encouraged and challenged every step of the way. 

Also in the ride, crushing his own goals, was her fiancé, the guy who won her heart many years ago. That dynamic duo, the adventure team, is charting a path of community connectiveness and truly exemplify ‘living life out loud’. 

I wish my amazing daughter a happy birthday and a life full of inspiring dreams and fellow dreamers. 

Commemorative practices

During my undergrad, I spent time investigating burial practices from 1830-1898 in a local cemetery. My interest was in how people chose to commemorate the dead and what were the economic, cultural, religious, or other social factors impacting those decisions. I wish I could say I came up with an answer but that is not what happens in these types of studies. You come up with (hopefully) reasonable and well researched theories.

The cemetery reflected practices from people’s country of origin, often blended with the practices in the local area or practices of their adopted country exclusively. Of course, there were outliers: the monument that was in a category all on its own, skewing everything.

I also engaged in a study of the concept and the reality of multiculturalism in Canada: were people given the space to maintain their own country/cultural/religious identity or was assimilation the actual goal of multicultural policies in Canada? Again there is no one “answer” to that question; in a vast country, there are vast experiences and outcomes. 

These two interests are making me wonder (possibly in a masters thesis kind of way): Why is there a recent surge (or perhaps resurgence) of expectation that people who are immigrating need to ‘assimilate’, utilizing only the social practices of their adopted country, rather than blending with or maintaining practices of their place of origin? In a time of grief, loss, or significant change, it is more common for people to seek the familiar.

Commemoration practices on the large scale, including statues and monuments, are presently at the centre of controversy, both “what” is being commemorated and “who” the person was and what they represented. One of the benefits of looking at small scale displays of belief systems seen in cemeteries is that those social practices are often indicative of larger, communal commemorative practices.

The tie to multiculturalism and inclusion comes down to looking at history and using past patterns to help understand the present: Were people given emotional and physical space to commemorate the dead in ways most meaningful to them? Were other social practices as inclusive/exclusive? How does this relate to present day commemorative practices – or does it?

I don’t know if enrolling in a Masters program is the next step but I do know that I have a lot of unanswered questions yet to pursue. 

Gravitas

Gravitas – high seriousness (as in a person’s bearing or in the treatment of a subject); a person who is a deep thinker

In the world of words I do not know, this one happened into my life at an interesting moment. My previous blog post, What Everybody Echoestalked about how, for much of my life, I was influenced by advertising and television because I did not engage with critical thinking. Gravitas is the remedy for that. Actually, gravitas is the remedy for much of what ails the world.

Today I listened to a podcast about the movement behind the idea Nature needs halfThe thinking is that neoliberalism has done severe damage to the world and the environment. The current world political and economic climates have made some people begin to take stock of those effects and are looking for a new way of being. Indigenous rights, scientific research on climate change and a society where nothing is certain are coming together in this perfect storm and generating interest in changing the world to be inclusive of everything and everyone. There is acknowledgement that progress is going to happen but it needs to be done in a way that considers all the players – in northern BC for example, where Indigenous interests have always been to maintain more for Mother Earth than for capitalism (read: pipelines). This is a template that can be utilized around the province, the country and the world. A template for securing at least half of land, water and air ‘for nature’.

The podcast today, The Sunday Editiongave an interesting example of people and commercialism working alongside nature. In Banff National Park, there are underpasses and bridges dotting Park highways with the intent of allowing animals to safely move from one area to another – no animals or humans are harmed and traffic continues to flow. This idea, around for more than two decades, is being utilized in various places around the world, from California to Argentina – in place there to help keep jaguars safe. Although this is an exemplary Canadian practice, in truth our nation is not meeting global targets for land protection; many less ‘developed’ countries have better policies and adherence to environmental protection.

So, what the heck does this have to do with gravitas? This is an issue that requires it – serious thought, serious action. As I said, gravitas can help to solve world issues. We can do much in our day to day by way of action: I am sitting in a house with solar panels covering most of the roof, we have an electric car. We use limited energy except at off peak times, we try hard to cycle or walk whenever we can. Part of this is to compensate for the ways in which we are not kind to our environment: we fly frequently for instance. Yet, we all need to do some serious thinking about local, regional and global issues and support changes that will make it possible to return to the idea of giving nature its due.

Gravitas, that ability to think and act seriously, are important when it comes to the environment, when it comes to figuring out ways to live in a world that is in trouble, both environmentally, politically and economically.

Yet, to enjoy life also takes a form of gravitas: serious effort.  We need to find ways to get out into the world and enjoy and care for nature, be appreciative for what is still safe. We need to give serious thought to finding ways to lower the rhetoric and reach out to those people, places and aspects of societies which have been marginalized by the way the world has been operating.

 

What everybody echoes

What everybody echoes or in silence passes by as true today may turn out to be falsehood tomorrow, mere smoke of opinion, which some had trusted for a cloud that would sprinkle fertilizing rain on their fields – Thoreau

I recently was listening to the CBC podcast about advertising Under the Influence and I was struck by the amount of beliefs that I absorbed in my formative years due to advertising. The stereotypes – gender, ‘race’, religion, etc. – which I was exposed to and never questioned.

This lead me to consider television and advertising today – I do not know any young adults who own a television – or at least who use their television as we did. A screen that we passively engaged with, that fed us what network and advertising executives wanted us to see and hear. We rarely questioned or protested. How often did I see a commercial and absorbed the message behind the product even when I had no interest in the product itself?

Today people are still inundated with messages, but I feel that there is a more active engagement. That does not square with the idea being floated that people (including me) are more involved with their screens than with the ‘real’ world. Yet, we are choosing to be engaged – I see an ad or a video or a social media post and I click to go deeper into the story or I move on.

Those messages I was raised on were challenged daily while at university. That experience highlighted how I had not questioned and took it all at face value. It was a matter of not thinking deeply, of simply accepting what was fed to me as ‘true’.

Life really was simpler when there was not a 24 hour news cycle and so much information coming at you – but it was also simpler because critical thinking was not an expectation television and advertising executives (or governments) had of the consuming public.

 

moving forward

This blog has been inactive of late, so there may be no one needing an explanation but here goes: I have changed the title of this blog from (mom)ents to writing in the (mom)ent due to the shift from a photography focus to one about writing. 

My university adventure – that lifelong dream – is complete. I had that huge goal in front of me for so long, and now it is achieved. So what’s next? That is a question I am wrestling with on a regular basis.

Why this blog shift? While I await a thunderbolt of clarity, I want to give a strong interest some regular attention. When one’s mother spent her whole life creating and making a living from writing/editing/broadcasting and your children can impact, educate and delight with words, it points to the possibility that creativity runs in your family.

And as my mama says, there’s only way one to improve on any skill: practice.

There’s no theme – hence ‘in the moment’. I’m hoping to work through thoughts and ideas I have by ‘writing out loud’. That title is also a homage to the grounding practice in my life – mindfulness meditation. I continue to develop mindfulness as it has proven to be a vital life skill for me.

So, here’s to practicing writing, in the (mom)ent.