When a Teaching Assistant Becomes So Much More

Jodi Shenal by Jodi Shenal Additional Needs

Jodi Shenal

Jodi Shenal

I'm a stay-at-home mom with two amazing children. My son is on the Autism spectrum and my daughter has a rare genetic disorder and multiple disabil...

The first day of the school-year often brings a flood of emotions to parents.

Anxiety, sadness and a great sense of pride are all experienced at once; simultaneously overwhelming.

For parents of children with special needs, leaving your child in someone else’s care intensifies these feelings.

“Will she be well cared for?”

“Will she be loved?”

When your child’s healthcare needs are extra special, you not only need a strong, loving, capable teacher, but also a kind-hearted, diligent Teaching Assistant as an integral part of your team.

Three years ago, my daughter, Ryleigh, began her second year in an amazing classroom.

On the first day, I was greeted by her wonderful teacher and her new assistant.

As the teacher and I had to walk to the office to complete some medical forms, I nervously left my five year old behind with the new assistant.

We had only briefly met, so I panicked a little and hoped that they would hit it off.

After a seeming eternity of completing emergency seizure plan paperwork, we walked back into the classroom…

The image of that moment has stayed with me over the years.

Ryleigh was out of her wheelchair, sitting in the floor, giggling and happily playing with the new Teaching Assistant, Mrs. Amanda.

Their connection was instant, and a surge of relief washed over me.

I kissed my baby girl goodbye, wished her a great first day, and headed on my way.

This was the first moment of three wonderful years we had with this jewel of an assistant.

My daughter is non-verbal, but the communication between them came easily.

She quickly learned to efficiently attend to Ryleigh’s wants and needs.

It was obvious that there was mutual admiration there.

They would be silly together, but she also didn’t waiver when it came time for Ryleigh to do her work.

I became completely comfortable with her; she took excellent care of my child.

More than a caregiver, she became a friend.

She was supportive of causes important to our family.

She ran in several 5K events we were part of; fundraisers for genetic research.

She was eager to generously lend a hand, outside of the school walls.

When Ryleigh had major hip surgery and was out of school for months, she took time out with the teacher to visit us at home.

She helped bring joy to a child stuck in a hospital bed and made special memories with her.

She even dropped by Ryleigh’s birthday party!

During a hospital stay once, she came to visit.

She and the teacher sang songs and helped me get her to eat.

This kind act brought such cheer and a massive smile to a sick child’s face.

Teachers have so much that they are responsible for on a daily basis.

Special Education teachers are true heroes in my eyes.

They go above and beyond for the little ones left in their hands and they work hard to shape precious minds.

Their support staff must be unyielding.

We were lucky and quite blessed to have Mrs. Amanda on our team and in our daughter’s life for three wonderful years.

She made a tremendous impact on our whole family.

As she moves on to soon begin her career as a Special Education Teacher, we were sad to start the year without her, feeling her absence in Ryleigh’s daily life.

Yet, we are so excited for all the other children’s lives that she will grace!

As change can be hard, we know that transition is just a part of the journey.



Nothing remains constant; you learn to adapt and appreciate the seasons.

With many more years of school ahead of her, and many new people entering her life, I hope that my daughter will continue to have such outstanding Special Education teachers and assistants placed along her path.

These people become so much more to us than just their job titles.


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