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"Self-care for Teacher Assistants: Fanning the warmth of the fire within them."

I had the opportunity to teach a self-care class to 60 teaching assistants. Teaching assistants are frontline staff who provide support to students with special needs. Unfortunately, the education sector has been hardest hit by COVID-19, as noted in numerous research studies. Teacher assistants are not immune to this hit.

The global pandemic has created what many are calling “COVID-19 kids.” The school supports students emotionally, socially, physically, and intellectually. Many children and youth have missed out on these fundamental needs during the COVID-19 pandemic, and their return to school has placed greater demands on education and school staff than ever before.

Standing in front of this group, we must not only see their frustration and exhaustion but also know this group continues to radiate light and warmth to their students daily. I want to tell them, "Things will get easier, funding will increase, more help will be available in the classroom, and their role will receive a raise commensurate with their role and responsibilities." Unfortunately, I cannot.

I showed them picture stories from the past five years of my life; a breast cancer diagnosis a month after retirement, COVID-19, the death of my beautiful 8.5-month-old granddaughter in utero, and a recurrence of stage IV breast cancer. My expectations of my journey in retirement did not include these unexpected events. No one was able to remove these events from my life. So, I practiced self-care to rise above these events, pivot, and move forward with a positive mindset.

For all of us, our expectations of what we want to achieve in life change because of unexpected events. We cannot change these events, but we can change how we respond to them. Listed below are the five lessons I had participants do during my session. Hopefully, you can use these lessons to support your self-care and live your best life, day by day, step by step, and moment to moment.

  • Believe that self-care is critical and act accordingly.

  • Read some self-care quotes and reflect on how they can serve as a guide to your self-care. Two that resonated with participants were: “Let them” and “Some days you will move mountains, other days you will move from the bed to the couch.” Both are necessary for self-care.

  • Make a list of your, hula hoop, needs and guidelines of how you would like others to engage with you. Share these needs with everyone to ensure they don't step over the line into your hula hoop of autonomy. I need others not to yell at me when in disagreement. I can handle conflict and welcome positive conflict to hear the perspectives of others. However, I will not tolerate combat.

  • Practice mindfulness in movement with yoga breathing. The photo above shows participants in an "inspiration" pose.

  • Forgive! Forgive others and forgive yourself. Forgiveness is not for others, but for ourselves, allowing us to release physical anger and resentment.

The teaching assistant I stand with above has supported students for 41 years. Christine practices self-care by respecting herself, respecting others, and pivoting when needed. Because of her actions, she is a staff member at Bridgewater Junior High who is admired, respected, and loved. Thumbs up to her and all of you trying to navigate this journey of challenges and things we alone cannot change.

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