Choosing a career path is both an exciting and stressful decision.
2020 has been a difficult year, and it has freed (or forced) people to examine their lives and decide what they’d like to dedicate themselves to. People want to find something they excel at; they want to be passionate about their work; but they often don’t know where to start or how to find opportunities.
Sprott Shaw College offers a program that allows you to become an Education Assistant in as little as 43 weeks. This role is in very high demand, and the program is producing graduates who are quickly finding work in their field — and better yet, it’s an incredibly rewarding career.
Sharla Place, Team Lead of the program, spoke to us about the Sprott Shaw experience, the overall role of an Education Assistant, and the type of person perfectly suited to pursue this career.
Place was an Education Assistant herself for many years, and is now leading the program at Sprott Shaw. Place recently worked with school districts from all over BC to tailor the Education Assistant Program and ensure that the curriculum prepares students for challenges before they even enter a classroom.
“We took all of their advice and their guidance, as well as a lot of principals’ guidance, and then we incorporated that into our brand-new program,” she explains.
Alongside Place, every single instructor in the program at Sprott Shaw has been an Education Assistant for at least five to 10 years. “They’re speaking from and teaching from experience,” she shares.
This is the first year of the new curriculum, and demand and hireability have remained consistently promising. “I just recently had 20 students go out in practicum, and they’ve all been hired,” Place says. “That’s what it’s about, right? Making sure that everybody is successful and getting the employment that they’re wanting and that they’re successful.”
Place explains that there are still misconceptions about what an Education Assistant does. They aren’t there to fetch coffee, help photocopy, or assist with lesson plans. “We’re there to assist the teacher in managing behaviours,” she says. “We’re working very, very hands-on with students with exceptionalities: students that are diagnosed as well as students that have behavioural issues and mental health issues.”
As for the coursework, it’s definitely not all textbooks and lectures. Students will learn about behavioural therapy, supporting students with medical issues, and so much more. “We learn everything, [including] EpiPens, [and even] insulin training,” she says.
She continues, “They learn about autism. They learn how to set up a communication system so that these kids [who aren’t verbal] can learn how to communicate. It is incredibly hands-on.”
As for the type of person who would succeed as an Education Assistant, it’s not about having a certain skillset or expertise. “The thing that’s more important is if they have a passion for kids,” Place says. Other key personality traits include patience, adaptability, the ability to think on your feet, and a love for hands-on work.
From these core building blocks, Sprott Shaw prepares students with the training and understanding necessary to work positively and passionately with students in all situations.
Some days might be difficult, and every day will be different. “The job is diverse. You’re doing everything. You’re going down that water slide in the summertime, you’re going to the museums, you’re doing everything,” Place says.
One of the best (and underrated) parts about studying at Sprott Shaw is the relationship students will always have with the College. Every student graduates with refresher courses they can enrol in throughout their career, whenever they need it. “We’ll help them with their resume. It’s a lifetime relationship with our students really. I’m still in touch with students from five years ago,” Place shares. If all that wasn’t enough, the school also offers their graduates lifetime employment assistance.
Being an Education Assistant sounds almost like more of a calling than a career. And with summers off, full benefits, and a median salary of over $50,000 a year, it can make for an incredibly fulfilling life. Sprott Shaw has graduates working in School Districts across the province including Vancouver, Richmond, Surrey, Burnaby, Coquitlam, Abbotsford, Maple Ridge, Mission, Chilliwack, and more. Many are hired right from practicum, which is included in the program.
“To work with kids that couldn’t even sit still for two seconds or kids that were only allowed to be at school for an hour, and now they’re at school five days a week, five and half hours a day is such a rewarding experience,” Place says.