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Member Spotlight

Jennifer Pyle: "I can’t imagine anything else"

Jennifer Pyle is a Special Education Paraeducator in Fairbanks, Alaska
Portrait image of Jennifer Pyle standing on a trail.
Published: 06/27/2022

As I grew up, I was never sure what I wanted to do. I had a lot of interests, including working with animals and sports. I was good at math. Teaching was the furthest thing from my mind.

I got married, and with a husband in the military, I became a full-time mom. We lived just north of New York City, but then my husband was transferred across the country to Fairbanks, Alaska. When my children got to be older, I began volunteering in schools and worked as a reading tutor. I loved it, especially seeing kids progress – from learning a new word to reading a full paragraph.

I then took a position as a paraeducator in special education at Barnette Magnet School in Fairbanks, assisting Tammy Smith, a great teacher who ran the school’s resource room. This is where special ed students would come once a day for academic or other support. I have enjoyed this position even more. I work so well with Tammy and get so much satisfaction from seeing these students make gains in their academic and social skills.

The collaboration was particularly important during the pandemic – when our job changed so much. We found that – especially with our students – it was particularly important to stay in touch. Tammy and I worked out ways to communicate with them and their families almost daily. Like me, ESPs at my school took on so many roles and supported students in many ways, and staff generally came to understand how important we are.

My colleagues have been so supportive of me on the job. Like many teachers, I was uncertain about my role when I began working in schools and found there was so much to learn. I came to understand how teaching is hard work, but the support I got from Tammy and other staff, as well as the opportunity to work with such great kids helped me work through the challenges.

I was proud of the work I was doing as an education support professional (ESP). I found that ESPs have such a big effect on our students and our school. I also was happy to find out that our union, the Education Support Staff Association, was making strides to improve our circumstances at work and protect us. It was good to know the organization had my back.

I’ve been in this position for seven years, and it is time for a new challenge: a classroom of my own.

With my husband being assigned to an army base in Fort Lewis, WA, I am going to earn my certification and begin teaching special education at the elementary level. And I’ll look for a position where I feel I have the strong backing of a union.

It will be challenging, but so rewarding to have my own class and be a teacher. I never expected this pathway eight years ago when I first worked in a classroom. Now, I can’t imagine anything else.

National Education Association

Great public schools for every student

The National Education Association (NEA), the nation's largest professional employee organization, is committed to advancing the cause of public education. NEA's 3 million members work at every level of education—from pre-school to university graduate programs. NEA has affiliate organizations in every state and in more than 14,000 communities across the United States.