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South Umpqua High School teacher Lori Risner poses next to words of gratitude written by students.

Instructional assistants (IAs) provide support to both students and teachers. For some, this role serves as a steppingstone to becoming a licensed teacher. During the past four years, South Umpqua School District has sponsored seven IAs to acquire an emergency or restricted teaching license while they complete their teaching programs. This past school year three former IAs are working towards their teaching licenses while working as classroom teachers. Lori Risner is one of these teachers. 

After Lori raised her children, she decided to attend Umpqua Community College and worked part of the time for South Umpqua School District. During this time, she shared that she began seeing life through different lenses. Following UCC, she transferred to Eastern Oregon University, while continuing to work for the district as an aid in special education and eventually earned a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education. 

This spring she is completing her license to teach secondary education English. For the last year she has been a remote self-paced student at Pacific University. Approximately 25 hours a week are dedicated to her studies, including a 4-hour online group Zoom session every other Saturday. Part of the program includes observation from the university’s supervisor.

Currently, she also teaches English classes to tenth and eleventh graders at South Umpqua High School in addition to a baking class to help students become successful in the kitchen. At the time of the interview, Lori and several students were making 16 dozen cookies for high school seniors and their families.

When asked her favorite aspect about being a teacher, Lori replied, “Of course, I love seeing the lightbulb moment in students, but I love being needed. Here I’m needed. These kids are so cool and wonderful. I really enjoy the secondary grade level. This makes my heart overflow.”

She mentioned that the greatest takeaway she has learned is equity in learning, which includes making the classroom environment equitable, giving the same option to everyone to make the accommodations accessible to all students.

“This is the best job ever, thinking about the teachers here, the leadership, and anyone in the office, I know that if need help with anything, they’re supportive,” she said.

IAs bring a wealth of practical experience to their teacher training programs. Their familiarity with students, individualized learning needs, and classroom dynamics enriches classroom discussions and fosters a deeper understanding of education. This blend of theoretical knowledge with real-world application equips them with a multifaceted approach to teaching, rooted in empathy and adaptability.

South Umpqua School District is grateful for each IA and teachers who play an enormous role in students’ lives.