With little pay, schools are forced to compete for teaching aides with fast food jobs that pay just as much, like McDonald's.
There are reports of mass teacher shortages all around the country. While everyone struggles with this, many fear students with disabilities are especially feeling the strain of this, as teaching aides, otherwise known as paraprofessionals, are particularly hard to come by. There are many reasons for this, but now that fast food chains like McDonald’s are paying just as much, districts are competing with these chains for staff.
Teaching aides have plenty of extra hardships they face each day. Working with a certain group of students, they are often attacked and bitten by students struggling to handle their emotions. Some help students go to the bathroom, and face getting fecal matter on them. What’s more, many of these tasks come with low pay. All of this may be why these individuals, who feel unappreciated are turning to careers at McDonald’s, which pay just as much or possibly more.
Some teaching aides working in Indianapolis Public Schools make just $15 an hour. When speaking with Chalkbeat, Laurie VanderPloeg, a former director of the Office of Special Education Program with the federal Department of Education insinuated that low pay is turning them away to alternative industries. “So we are competing with a McDonald’s or you know, even some of the local stores that are paying up to $13 or $15 an hour,” she said.
Teaching aides play a vital role in schools helping students with disabilities. Despite being essential, these individuals typically make far less than other teachers in the classroom. In legislation, conversations that involve increasing educator pay often fail to cover paraprofessionals. Some believe this is because these positions don’t require credentials and licenses by the state.
Even when some schools are able to acquire teaching aides, many of them feel the stress from the strenuous jobs, which often include getting messy, bruised, beaten, and having to pay meticulously close attention to children’s medical needs. Oftentimes, they end up leaving new positions for places like McDonald’s before the school year ends. Now that it is more clear than ever that more enticing salaries may be the only solution to turn this problem around, states can no longer ignore these findings.
The pandemic exacerbated these issues. When schools across the nation shuttered their doors because of COVID-19, many teaching aides had to find work elsewhere, as their services weren’t needed because disabled students were no longer in the classrooms. Likely, many of them didn’t return once schools reopened. Little pay and work conditions did little to entice them back to the school system.
Teaching aides aren’t the only school faculty realizing that places like McDonald’s can offer more. A teacher went viral over the summer on TikTok with his announcement that he was leaving his job as an early education teacher in Ohio for a higher-paying one at Wal Mart. Other than having better pay, he traded in long, strenuous work weeks for something he felt would give him a bit more freedom.
Now that it is well-documented how much disabled students have fallen behind in academics, it is more important than ever to make sure that classrooms are equipped with enough staff, like teaching aides. Coined by many as the backbone of special education classrooms, these positions are just as important, if not more, than other education faculty. But if these jobs continue to offer with little pay, more and more will continue to see fast food chains as a more appealing option.