Schools struggle to hire teaching assistants, helpers

Janice Carter and Maira Carmona are longtime teaching assistants in the Hempstead School District, having spent decades in the classroom helping students at Jackson Main School focus and stay on track with the rest of the class.

Educators said the two teaching assistants are a crucial part of the elementary school learning experience. They provide small group or individual instruction that allows the teacher to lead and guide the entire class. But staffers such as Carter and Carmona are becoming increasingly difficult for school systems to hire.

“It’s like finding a needle in a haystack – it’s very difficult,” Jackson senior manager Richard Brown said.

As local districts grapple with recent bus driver shortages and high demand for substitute teachers, they also face shortages of teaching assistants and aides. These roles are essential in the classroom, educators said, whether it’s being part of an educational plan for special education students or helping children who have fallen behind — especially those who are struggling with learning loss due to the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic.

WHAT THERE IS TO KNOW

  • As local districts grapple with recent bus driver shortages and high demand for substitute teachers, they are also facing a shortage of teaching assistants and aides.
  • Several agencies are mobilized to help with staffing. Teacher assistants perform instructional services under the direction of the teacher, while teacher assistants typically perform non-teaching services. Many teacher assistants work specifically with special education students.
  • The National Bureau of Labor Statistics said there were 131,100 teaching assistants employed in New York in 2019 and 108,780 in May 2021, a drop of more than 17%.

Several agencies have stepped up to help with staffing. Eastern Suffolk BOCES, which employs around 300 assistants and 500 assistants, has increased the number of job fairs in the community. Suffolk County Community College is working with local schools to help make up the shortfall. Molloy University of Rockville Center has launched free workshops to help prospective employees pass a test requirement. The Sachem School District provided a recruitment tool this fall to 12,000 families in the community to let them know they are hiring.

“We often say that we are able to run the classes we do and support the students we have through the work of our aides and assistants,” said Ryan Ruf, chief operating officer at Eastern Suffolk BOCES.

Less “interested” in education

While teacher shortages have been reported nationwide, that’s not the case on Long Island, said Dominick Palma, chairman of the Nassau County Board of School Superintendents. He said he mostly hears from school officials about the lack of assistants and helpers.

Palma counted available positions nearly two months into the school year on an online hiring database for educators and found 85 job offers for aides on Long Island and 17 for teaching assistants. . The National Bureau of Labor Statistics showed 131,100 teaching assistants employed in New York in 2019 and 108,780 in May 2021, a drop of more than 17%.

“Part of it has to do with a reduction in the number of people interested in education,” said Palma, the superintendent of Merrick. “Previously, teaching assistants and assistants often came out of the community – they were mostly women leaving the workforce and their kids were older and now back… I see that a lot less.”

The state Department of Labor reported a median annual salary of $34,740 for teaching assistants on Long Island, with more than 19,000 employees.

“What I don’t think people realize is that with a teaching assistant job they can make $28,000 to $38,000 a year and that often comes with a union benefit,” said said Donna Ciampa, acting executive dean of the Michael J. Grant Campus at Suffolk County Community College.

“When they’re union members, they get the medical benefits and the retirement benefits, and I’m not sure they factor that into their actual work,” said Ciampa, who teaches education classes. .

The college works with local school systems, including Brentwood, to encourage community college students to consider working as assistants or aides.

Teacher assistants perform instructional services under the direction of the teacher, while aides often perform non-teaching services. Many teacher assistants work specifically with special education students. They do not need to be certified.

There are four levels of certification to become an assistant in the state – all of which require passing a test called the New York State Assessment of Teaching Assistant Skills. They must also pass workshops on child abuse, school violence, bullying prevention, and the Dignity for All Students Act. Going beyond the first level as an assistant requires some college and classroom experience.

This summer, for the first time, Molloy University offered a free online test prep workshop. Another workshop was held on October 19 in preparation for the state certification exam. They don’t have to be a Molloy student, said Louis Cino, dean of continuing education and professional studies.

It was launched “last year based on feedback we received from districts saying they had a very difficult time finding applicants,” he said. “It’s getting harder and harder for companies these days to find people who are willing to work in person…I think those jobs are becoming less and less favorable.”

Increased awareness efforts

East Suffolk BOCES have stepped up their outreach efforts. The organization, which serves students in 51 districts, held three job fairs in the county last year and one earlier this month — and had success in hiring from home, Ruf said. Last year, the organization adjusted salaries for aides to be more competitive.

Larry Street, 68, of Riverhead, filled out an application at the BOCES job fair in Holtsville. He is a semi-retired educator and is looking to return to the classroom.

“I’ve been on the pitch for a very long time and…I feel like I have a lot to offer,” he said.

In the Sachem district, Theresa Arne has worked as a caregiver for 17 years. She is assigned as a “one-to-one” aide to first-grade students with special needs at Hiawatha Elementary School in Lake Ronkonkoma.

“It’s so rewarding for me. I get to see the student every day and see their progress throughout the year academically and socially,” she said.

To find staff members like Arne, the district sent out a Google form to about 12,000 families in the district notifying them of vacancies. They received about 200 responses, Superintendent Christopher J. Pellettieri said.

“It’s been very difficult this year, more than the others,” he said. Despite the shortage, Pellettieri said classes were covered, even if the district had to use a substitute. “It’s been tough, but we’re making it work,” he said.

At Hempstead, Carmona and Carter worked together as teaching assistants for more than two decades each, and both said they weren’t ready to retire just yet. They often meet former students who are doctors, lawyers or even teachers in their own district.

“One thing I really love about being a teaching assistant is that I love helping kids learn, especially newcomers to our country,” said Carmona, who is a teaching assistant. bilingual education.

Carter added, “This work is very important and very rewarding. There are children who are behind…and now after the pandemic even more so. These are children who really need our support.”

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