My Ideal Classroom Aide

If you've been following the blog for some time you may remember that I have had various "helper persons" from pre-school till 9th grade. At the start of 9th grade I got all teenager-y and stubbornly wrote off my aide and won the case for my independence; from that point on I was deemed capable / responsible enough for my own well-being and have not had an aide in the classroom since.

Fifth Grade, I think?

When I think of the aides I had in elementary school one thing immediately comes to mind: they were all involved in the education of the entire classroom. Though much of their time was spent one-on-one with me, I remember my aide in third grade taught math lessons and my aide in the fifth grade would often read aloud to the entire class. I didn't consciously realize it then but I appreciated and even liked this aspect of their job quite a bit. In many ways, I believe having an aide who was accessible to and involved in every student's education made my integration into the mainstream classroom a lot easier. In elementary school I was rarely without friends and more importantly was never ashamed of needing the extra help; it also helped my friends and other classmates better understand what I was all about in a more seamless way.
In middle school I had several aides throughout the three years. I'm not totally sure what the school was thinking but when I was in the 8th grade my aide was a man. Already that fact alone made it difficult for me, as an awkward 13 year old girl, to connect with him. Not only was he not involved in the learning that went on for each student, but he was also a one-on-one aide for a student in my year who had a learning disability. From what I remember though, during the IEP meeting at the end of fifth grade (as my parents and teachers met before my transition to middle school), it was decided that my aide would help me with things like going from class to class, getting heavy binders and books out of my back pack, fire drills, and in the case that I had a fracture would help me take notes. Since I was now an 'older kid' the focus of my aide was a lot less on the social aspects of my school day and more on the academic learning aspects - no doubt my parents had a lot to do with this decision.
But in all honesty I vividly remember how much I was annoyed by my aide in the 8th grade. I found him to be utterly useless, boring, and more or less wanted nothing to do with him. In fact I remember how my friends and I would race into the elevator before he got there, quickly slam the door close button and giggle hysterically as we watched him try to chase after us, struggling to get through the messy crowd of pre-teen back packs. Yep I was that dreaded pre-teen girl every adult loathes, I'm quite sure that I was that devious 8th grade girl. Another time, during shop class, my friend and I decided to mess around with some horribly boring sounding book my aide was reading (he had left it unattended on top of a desk). Not only did we think it a good idea to turn the book to a random page so he would lose his place, but we also decided to draw a happy face on one of the pages with super glue. I told you, devious. 

Throughout my experience with having an aide I was fortunate that most of my aides were not like the one I had in 8th grade. Their personalities ranged from being very quiet to the ones who would joke around with me, or to the ones who just shrugged in exasperation every time I zoomed down the halls with a friend standing on the back of my wheelchair. None of my aides were ever flat-out mean or unaccommodating. Many of them quickly realized that I was going to do as much as I could, regardless of whether or not it was a potentially terrible and injury-prone idea. For instance, climbing ropes in gym class. Or trying the monkey bars during recess. I think one year we tied the rope to my wheelchair during tug-of-war and I was finally allowed to participate in the school-wide competition. My aides let me jump and skip in my walker even though I was really only supposed to be walking. They would listen to my complaints about having to wear my long leg braces all day, and every now and then I was allowed to take them off. My aides respected the times I wanted to try something, and although they probably weren't always sure whether or not I could handle it - they encouraged my curiosity and development by letting me do it. Of course this meant that they were always right there with me standing by, and most times it meant that they were physically holding on to me for dear life!

So with all of that said I have compiled a list of characteristics that I would include in my ideal classroom aide:

  • Have a sense of humor that's like mine! 
  • Be involved in what's going on in the classroom
  • Have a fun personality but also know when an authority figure is needed. Secretly I do expect my classroom aide to keep me safe when one of my seemingly "good ideas" is not so good.
  • Back-off when friends are around
  • Allow friends to help me as appropriate. The truth is that as young kids grow-up they will increasingly realize that they will be the ones who need to ask for help, and many times that person may be their peer or colleague. Starting this early-on is only planning for the long-term!
  • When I am hesitating about doing something that involves physical activity, help talk me through the decision process
  • Trust me enough to have some time alone; my aide shouldn't be a literal shadow!
  • Respect my curiosity
  • Respect and help me during uncomfortable situations. No kid willingly wants to admit in front of his or her friends that they need help going to the bathroom or getting changed for gym class
  • After a certain age, let me tell you when I need help
  • Help me explain my disability to my friends in an appropriate manner and when the time is right
  • Realize that if I want to do something that my aide usually does, this is not a sign of my trying to offend you but instead I am just trying to learn. Help me realize what it is I need help with, and what I can do with assistance
  • Never assume that I just can't do it. Allow me to take the first steps in trying and then assist me as needed
I'm sure that there are probably hundreds of more components to my ideal aide but that seems like a pretty good start. For parents of children who have need of an aide, it's always a good idea to make a similar list WITH your child; this way when the next IEP meeting comes along or the next parent-teacher conference date comes up, you are able to bring up issues or solutions to problems!

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6 Responses to My Ideal Classroom Aide

  1. I would like to say i think you are a brilliant girl and i am glad you are sharing your thoughts as a child growing up with OI. I also have OI and i had some wonderful aides through school also and it does take a special person to help take care of OI kids because they are so fragile I never got hurt at school. Thank you for your Blog you are amazing...

  2. Thank you for your incredibly kind words!! I appreciate the fact that you take the time to read my posts!

  3. I love it!!!!!! I am not done reading yet! I love Mrs. Marshall!

  4. My sister Erica went to school with you and she believes she took that lovely photo of Zervas herself. It made me so nostalgic!

    I appreciate this post. It's incredible how little awareness I've actually had about issues of accessibility. Your stories about the aide you had when you were in eighth grade made me think I should be afraid to ever be a 13 year old girl's aide, but it also made me realize how crazy it would have made my 13 year old self if there was some guy following me around or literally "chasing" me as you wrote at one point. That is pretty much any 13 year old's nightmare.

    It's also amazing how the school administration, parents, health care workers or whoever was involved didn't realize that aspect of it and work harder to create a situation where you could actually be as independent as possible. I guess it just seems easier sometimes to just put some random adult in your life and try and take care of whatever issues that could come up as efficiently as possible, even if it actually impedes an adolescent's growth which is at least as important as that efficiency. Every teenager struggles for independence. I'm glad you were able to advocate for yourself to have your own needs met. Hopefully any aides/ school officials reading this would feel inspired to create as independent an atmosphere possible for their students.

    I'm not sure if you're already familiar with but if not you might be interested. I was reading this earlier today (which I consider a coincidence seeing as I never actually read blogs, and now I'm excited about two blogs both written by young Asian America women with disabilities). It also tackles issues of accessibility and independence. Their blog is in letter form between these two women as they work out issues in their relationship (but also discusses their frustration with a lack of accessibility, perceptions etc.)

    Anyway good luck to you and I look forward to reading more posts,

  5. Sandy- This is brilliant! I love your insights. I don't know if you remember me or not, but I was an aide in Mr. C's room when you were in 4th grade! I am teaching grade 5 at Zervas. I am still in touch with Ms. Marshall, too! Have you ever come back for a visit? Would you ever consider talking with students or parents about your views on school?

    Rebecca (Chabot) Deeks

  6. Thanks Rebecca for the comment! No I haven't been back to visit in, literally.. decades. And it wasn't until you mentioned it that I ever considered coming in to talk with students / parents about school. I had written a post a few weeks ago about talking to my own 4th & 5th grade class during the "Understanding Me" curriculum, but that was the last time I had ever done such a thing. Wow, it's been awhile eh!? You can send me a direct email if you wanted to talk further -- the link is on the right hand side.
    Thanks again for stopping by & I hope you're well!


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