The immense changes that COVID-19 has thrust upon us have turned school support staff into paraprofessionals.
Change has had a massive impact on our students and our everyday lives. Pandemic, lockdown, Zoom, social distancing, face masks and others are words we hardly used before 2020. School support staff are not new to change. Change and adaptability are our middle names.
Our roles have evolved to that of a paraprofessional, as there is an expectation from employers that we have qualifications such as Certificate III or IV in Education. We also come to our roles with qualifications and work experience gained from previous careers. In addition, we bring personal skills and talents which benefit the whole school community.
Whether in an office, lab, classroom or outside, support staff are caring people who assist with the social and emotional growth of students, teachers, parents and the community.
Support staff have adapted to the constant changes associated with new legislation, compliance and the introduction of new technology which is not always fully functional or implemented with the required communication and training.
There is a constant need for professional development. Classroom support staff needs the skills and knowledge to work across many different curriculum areas such as English, Mathematics, Science and Technology. Students need our assistance in using assistive technology, administering medication, personal care and behaviour management.
Behaviour management has become an integral part, if not the central part, of many of our workloads. One of the strengths of school support staff is our ability to support the mental health and wellbeing of students. Many students see us as someone they can trust, who they can go to with a problem, who will listen to them, and who will advocate for their needs and rights.
Ask any parent or teacher what they think of the support staff at their school, and you’ll hear words such as “worth their weight in gold”, “angels”, “superheroes”, “legends”. As affirming as this is, I’d rather us be referred to as professionals doing our jobs.
I would like to thank the IEU for its commitment to school support staff, not just on an industrial level but on a professional and personal level. The pandemic has forced us to postpone our conference this year, but I encourage all support staff to join us for it in 2022.