A Day in the Life of Instructional Assistants

Special thanks to the Instructional Assistants that shared their daily realities to make this post.

A word cloud built out of 22 of our Instructional Assistants jottings around the theme of “A Day in the Life . . . “

In the Hamster Wheel of our school ecology, there is perhaps no population more integral to the wellbeing of our students, no oil more diligent to the squeaks that inevitably ensue on that well- trodden wheel of teaching and learning, than our instructional assistants. The official job description is filled with nods to all aspects of teaching: classroom management, differentiation of lessons, work with assessments, supervision, and on and on. But on October 11th when I sat down with our instructional assistants, I wanted to know more than their official duties. I gave them 5-10 minutes to jot down words or phrases or pictures to help me understand the flow of a “day in their lives.” I found, of course, that their days were as varied as those of classroom teachers at different levels on different days. As one assistant quipped in the room: “FLEXIBILITY is the name of the game. You have to be ready to jump up and shift gears on a dime.”

Of course in the process I learned that our assistants are rockstars. And that they know a lot about the repetition and relentlessness of the hamster wheel.

They are also quite patient. And optimistic in spite of it all. And, more often than not, more than their fair share of inspirational.

Junko Bramlett’s “day in the life” looks suspiciously like a guidebook to responsive classroom.

I took all 22 of their quick scribbles about “a day in their life” and transcribed them onto a google doc. I copied/pasted all of that text and it created the word cloud you saw at the start of the blog. But I needed another form to represent their lived realities. So here’s a “found poem,” a creative reworking of their words (none of mine) that I’ve mashed up together in attempts to reflect their collective experiences. It is imperfect and incomplete, but then, language always is.

A Day in the Life as Shared by 22 Instructional Assistants

I start my days off with my daily prayer and thanking God for the day.

I wear lots of hats.

Starting with a smile assisting kids.

Running less than 2 minutes late and getting stuck in the carpool line.

Greet, greet, greet;

Take care of whatever notes are in my basket. Copies.

Listen listen, take care of backpacks not fitting,

“I forgot my math homework.”

Manners at morning meeting, lessons, tea party, lunch, recess;

Thank you-please- interrupting when people are speaking.

Give bandaids and miracle water,

Weed/remove damaged and obsolete books,

Assist in whatever capacity I’m needed–

It varies day to day and hour to hour.

(You never know what the day is going to bring.)

Fill in for whomever isn’t here,

Glue stick and glitter fingers usually by 10am;

“Where is lunch; I’m hungry?”

Playtime, nap, lunch, playtime;

Listen to everything, what happened last night, the weekend?

Also others that need love/attention.

See-saw: all day posting;

Changing diapers/potty,

We are with the children most of the time throughout the day,

When teachers are out, we are the teacher.

Playground police officer :(, nurse, boo boo fixers,

Organize take home folders,

Copy-laminate-grade papers,

Put in help tickets, solve problems, create solutions, tech help.

I love to see them during playground recess time as they show other sides of their personality,

Shady bench at recess; laughter; sunshine; swingsets and soccer.

Conflict resolution, coach, friend, buddy, colleague, hugger.

Teaching/coaching them to find peace.

Feeling like I need 8 arms– Multi-tasking (a skill I had to re-learn) 🙂 

“Will you open my milk, yogurt, water bottle?”

Pretty packed days.

Okay, so confession time:

  1. I have been working at the school for over three years and in this particular whole-school position for no fewer than 470 days, and our 10/11/22 PD Day was the first time I have had the distinct opportunity of working directly alongside instructional assistants.

2. Since the inception of the blog in 2019, we have put out 131 posts into the universe. None specifically feature the daily lived realities of instructional assistants. (It should, however, be mentioned that regular contributor and writer Mary B Sellers has, by virtue of her awesomeness, represented some of that distinct vantage point all on her own . . . despite my own editorial failure on this front.

It was high time we fixed both of those errors.

To all Instructional Assistants: Thank you for your work. Thank you for your love. Thank you for these words.

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