While we have many wonderful staff members in our district, there’s one particular group that we really want to take the time to recognize as true unsung heroes, our Special Education Technicians.
“These men and women are really on the front lines with our students,” said district Social Worker Angela McMahon. “The relationships they build can be truly life-changing.”
The job of Special Education Technicians, or Ed Techs as they are frequently referred to, is never simple to define. Their role changes based on their grade level and assignment, their students’ needs, and the events of each day. The job is part surrogate parent, part drill sergeant, and part mind reader.
For most Ed Techs, particularly those working with children who have behavioral struggles, the educational component is really just the tip of the iceberg. The first hurdle to clear is making sure that their students are in a space where they can participate in the learning process.
“We do a lot of emotional first aid,” said Behavioral Ed Tech Betty Kendrick. Each Tech has to know his or her students well enough to understand what is going to be a trigger for them and how to keep them calm. Sometimes it’s a grade, an assembly, or a particular lecture topic; the Ed Techs need to anticipate how their students are going to react and know how to help them cope.
In the Lifeskills Programs, these tasks come on top of helping students with basic communication, self-care, and more. All of our Ed Techs across the district serve as the educational point person for the students on their caseload. They help them understand their assignments, work to help them stay organized, and make sure they turn completed work in. They intervene with teachers and help implement modifications. They are also frequently the first person students come to if they are having a personal problem.
Again, it all comes back to the relationships the Ed Techs work so hard to build with their students. Special Educator Mark Bachinski remembers a student who was struggling to even show up to school. Now he’s there nearly every day and even seeks out the Ed Techs at lunch. “He found a reason to be here because of [our Ed Techs],” said Bachinski. “It’s their loving attitude that keeps kids in the building.”
For most of the Ed Techs, it’s the students that keep them coming in as well. The job is tough; it often isn’t what people expect, and can be unpredictable at times with disruptions and schedule changes, but the real benefits come from the little everyday successes they achieve with the students they work with.
“It’s really rewarding when you can help a kid be successful in their quest for learning,” said Vicky Bussey. “Each has different needs and different ways of doing things, but seeing their excitement when they have success is the biggest reward.”
On the down days, they try to focus on those success stories. A student who looked like he wouldn’t graduate who is now a corporal in the US military, another who struggled with social behavior and academics who is now a chatty senior working on college applications. These are the things that get them to come back in after a rough day.
“It’s a very emotionally demanding job,” said Behavioral Ed Tech Stephen Bachinski “ I definitely bring it home with me every night.”
The work is also often fast-paced according to McMahon, and Ed Techs have to be able to keep calm and think fast. With the rising number of students with special needs outpacing the number of Techs available, the task can be quite daunting.
“I think it is important to keep in mind that there is no typical day,” said CMS Ed Tech Doreen Armour, “that way you are not expecting such a thing to exist and you won’t be surprised when the unexpected happens.”
The long and short of it is that we would be lost without the amazing, taxing work these men and women do, day in and day out.
“ I often hear students refer to our Ed Techs as their teacher,” said Superintendent Carl Gartley. “While they may not have the official certification as a teacher, they truly are educators. They help with instruction, they help students with behavioral goals, they assist students with basic needs…. in short, they care about kids. Thank you to each and every one of you for all that you do.”