Teaching assistant Loretta Falkowski was interviewed by Annie McClintock, president of the United Teaching Assistants of Harborfields and a member of the NYSUT SRP Advisory Committee.
Why do you love what you do?
I am a special education teaching assistant at Washington Drive Primary School in Centerport. I work with students who have varying degrees of learning, emotional and/or social disabilities. Along with collecting data and following behavior plans, I work collaboratively with classroom special education teachers to keep the students on task. One-to-one instruction is often necessary because the students are pulled from class for related services. From the moment they step off the bus to the moment they get back on, I am there to help them in whatever way, shape or form is necessary to ensure their success.
During the last 14 years, I have had the privilege of working with kindergartners, first- and second-graders, watching their faces light up when they finally "get it" for a math concept, or helping them write a story they are proud to read to the class. Primary school presents many challenges for these children and helping them navigate the ground work is vital for their success.
How are you involved in your union?
I am the building representative for the United Teaching Assistants of Harborfields. When I first started working I found it difficult to get answers about issues that would arise. So the following year, I ran for building rep and, you guessed it, I am still doing it today.
I have attended many of NYSUT's training programs, such as "Union Rep, Political Action, Negotiations and Leadership," each one more valuable than the last. All this knowledge helps me to help my members. If I don't have the answer, I know where to find it. I've learned to be a good listener and to be supportive of all my members.
How do you make a difference?
I make a difference when I observe my students attend a lesson and complete an assignment that would have overwhelmed them at the beginning of the school year. I make a difference when my students no longer destroy a classroom in a fit of anger and instead use their words to express that they need a break. I make a difference when my members thank me for my help in negotiating a new contract. I make a difference when a grievance is settled and the matter is resolved.