A shackled heart: Teacher aides' experience of supporting students with high needs in regular classes
This study asked the question “What is the lived experience of teacher aides supporting students with high needs?” The study design included interviews of seven teacher aides, to elicit their experience of supporting students identified as requiring significant ongoing resourcing to access the curriculum. All participants supported students in primary schools for more than half the day. Data analysis was informed by phenomenology. Van Manen’s (1990) life-world existentials were used to guide reflection, with notions from Heidegger (1962) and Levinas (1998) used to provide further understanding. The findings of this study reveal that teacher aides begin their journey supporting students unprepared for the responsibility. As they find themselves thrown in to being-in-the-world of school, feeling at home in the classroom is dependent on feeling welcomed, and included within class and school practices, and impacts on strategies teacher aides use to support the student. These include how they use space and encourage independence. As they experience journeying with the student through their school years, they often travel out of synch with others in the class. The resultant sense of isolation creates a need to redefine their student’s itinerary. Their journey often feels unsupported, with most support coming from families who have similar experience of caring for the student. However crossing boundaries into the student’s home life means they often find themselves becoming the go-between, communicating information between school and home. These teacher aides, when meeting their student in their vulnerability starting school, found themselves unexpectedly called towards commitment to the student. Spending a considerable part of the day with the student, providing care for safety, behaviour and self-care, a special relationship develops between the teacher aide and student. The nature of this relationship is brought to light. As they embody experiences of the student as their own, and feeling one-step-away-from-mother, a sense of bondage prevails. Their hearts are shackled as they carry the student with them beyond the school gate, constantly worrying and planning for them. The findings of this study reveal meaning for teacher aides’ mode of caring and how they provide support. Serious concerns arise for teacher aides and students when there is an absence of awareness or acknowledgement of this relationship being created. There are recommendations for increased awareness of the impact of the teacher aide-student relationship and the responsibility teacher aides assume when spending the greater part of the day alongside these students. Alongside this is a need for increased collaboration to increase opportunities for student and teacher aide inclusion. Educational opportunities for both parents and education staff have been identified to support these findings.