By Michelle A. Brown
Taylor Sweet has been a Teacher Assistant (TA) at Wildwood School for almost one year. Her career here began in an unusual manner. Having graduated college the year before, she was unsure how she wanted to use her BA in psychology. She decided to work as a personal boxing trainer until she “figured it out.”
Through a gym connection she began volunteering with YAP students. She’d never had experience working with people with differing abilities, but quickly found she enjoyed it tremendously. It appeared that she had a natural ability to support the students in a positive manner and she was encouraged to apply for a position at Wildwood. She did and became a TA for our middle school age students. The rest, as they say, is history!
When asked what she would want others to know about being a TA, she replied, “There’s so much I’d like people to know, …but if I had to choose one thing, it’s that the students teach me just as much as I teach them. Working with them every day is such an adventure. Seeing what they’re capable of and the way they navigate the world is eye-opening. It’s made me re-think a lot over the past year.”
I asked her what one of the biggest challenges in the classroom would be. Taylor explained this occurs when there is a communication gap between the students and TA’s. Taylor clarified, “When students are expressing themselves in their language, their TA’s don’t always understand and conversely, the students cannot always understand their TA’s language. This can result in confusion and behavioral difficulties. The students know exactly what they’re saying and I know what I’m saying, but we can’t understand each other. It’s painful for everyone involved when this happens. There are times when a student is trying so hard to tell staff what they need or want and we just can’t always understand it, which would make anyone upset. As an educator, we try to explain a concept or teach a skill, but sometimes we can’t find the right tools or words to do so. We never give up.”
Taylor feels being a part of Wildwood has impacted her life in general. She feels more aware and mindful- not only of herself, but of others. Now she tries to see all of the possibilities and ponders why someone might be behaving a certain way, even if it’s a person she doesn’t know. She feels her position as a TA has made her more patient and understanding. Because of her students, she feels she has grown as a person.
“There are many rewards to being a TA”, Taylor said. The biggest rewards come from building strong relationships and friendships with the students as they work together every day. Taylor said, “ You learn so much about each other and it forms a bond between you that’s unlike anything else. You get to help the students and see them progress; not just academically, but with social and life skills…learning to become more independent. There’s a huge sense of gratification that comes from knowing you’re helping them not just as students, but as people.”