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. 

18 thoughts on “Educational workers being harmed: not a news flash but a daily reality

  1. Dedicated educational support folks, want every kid they work with to succeed.
    It’s what we live for and our reward for doing what we do.
    Without adequate funding,these kids are not getting what they need to be successful, they are doomed to fail and support staff are often blamed.
    Without proper support, frustration is a result and the staff bear the brunt of that frustration, in physical attacks.
    Truly understanding what is going on, is the only way to fix this problem.
    Providing as much support as each child needs, is the solution, not some funding formula.
    One size does not fit all.
    Each child is unique, as is every human being.


  2. As an E.A., I would like to say thank you. Thank you, from the bottom of my frustrated, weary, angry heart. You have put into words what I have been incoherently spewing for years. I will be sharing your words far and wide, in the hope that folk will listen and act. The system is failing…


  3. This article highlights a serious problem.
    Until serious research is conducted into the causes of the rapidly expanding numbers of children with special needs, the situation will continue to grow.
    The root cause in my humble opinion will be found in GMOs, heavy metals, pollution and vaccination additives. It’s a tragedy in the making.


    • Although I agree with your assertion -there is need for further research into contributing factors – the need for funding in schools is urgent and immediate. We cannot wait to find out why there are higher numbers of students before governments take action for the dismal present conditions.


  4. Enough talk! Truly time for action! Rip that bandaid off we all no what it’s hiding. Everyone involved in education needs to be held accountable. PARENTS INCLUDED! No blame! Let’s move forward in the best interests of our future leaders! There’s an excellent model out there to assist in this process. No need to reinvent the wheel! Time is of the essence!


  5. Thank you! I am an Educational Assistant and I love what I do. It is very rewarding to see your students succeed and know that we have had a part in making that happen, but we do get hurt all the time. It has been my experience that when I have been injured by a student because I’m helping them learn or protecting others around us. I have been made to feel that it was my fault for being too close. If I’m not too close, someone else would be injured. That meets other students, teachers, and staff. We are not only covering many different students and duties on a daily basis, but when one of us is away or off sick there is no supply sent in our place. This means we now do double duty covering students or students go without support at all. Ultimately the students lose. What kind of education is that?


    • Charlene – you summed up the daily joy/challenge dichotomy beautifully – we need to have support in our work in order to provide the conditions for student success. Thank you for your work everyday.


    • That’s my favourite! When we get hurt and we get blamed for doing something wrong. Oh sorry, next time would you like me to are out of the way so he can hurt other kids instead ?! Frustrating!


  6. Pingback: Educational perspectives – writing in the (mom)ent

  7. Pingback: Lack of funding = lack of safety in schools – writing in the (mom)ent

    • Thank you for advovating for all of the stidents who have to witness the violent aggressive acts of other students towards their friends and staff who are trying to keep them safe. Everyone has the right to a safe school and work environment.


  8. I want people out there to understand that yes we are being injured by students with special needs but we are also being abused by mainstream students. People seem to forget that some of us work with mainstream students or behavioural students that can be very verbally abusive and at times physical.
    Regardless, no one should ever have to go to work and worry if they will be abused. The Ministry of Education should come into our schools and see what we deal with instead of sitting in their nice offices barking orders and going against Collective Agreements and taking the fun out of school. All school is, is a stressful day for most kids.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I am an educational
    Assistant who is just returning back to work after an entire year off due to a student assulting me.
    I recieved a massive concussion that took
    Me away from my family for 8.5 months.
    I loved my job, but the abuse that occurs within it on a daily basis isn’t worth my life!


  10. I am an educational
    Assistant who is just returning back to work after an entire year off due to a student assulting me.
    I recieved a massive concussion that took
    Me away from my family for 8.5 months.
    I loved my job, but the abuse that occurs within it on a daily basis isn’t worth my life!


  11. My understanding is an EA is a member of a team, that team includes the principal, the Spec Ed teacher, the classroom teacher to name a few. It is unfortunate that the EA is the person who has to “take it for the team”. Teachers are paid a lot more than EA’s and ECE’s, I would suggest the delivery method needs to be reevaluated.


  12. As a former retired EA I agree with all of this. I had to retire early due to long-term health issues resulting from injuries received doing my job. I could not prove the connection, however, but was finding it difficult to do the job anymore.


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