In May 2014, our blog suffered a major melt down, and as a result, we lost almost all our original posts dating back to the blog’s inception since 2013. Sometimes, we get lucky and we find an older post in drafts and we decides to dust this one off today and bring it in. Originally posted in January of 2013 when Renay and Megan still co-wrote the blog together, this post was written by Renay for ParaEducate.
Megan doesn’t often ask me to write, but she didn’t know when she asked me to write on this topic, how timely it was in my life.
Every person who comes into a school has their own strengths. But paraeducators, seem superhuman at times, or at least the good ones. They forge ahead with professionalism and compassion in all situations. They share their love of learning with their students and bring their direct charges into situations that are unusual and expect the best for their student.
And one of the unique things about where Megan used to work and where I still do: I have a vast resource of fellow paraeducators to rely upon. So with a little help, I got Mary Riordan (19 years), Sue Meyer (19 years), BreeAnn Rodrigues (5 years), and Paula Bouysonousse (4 years) to help me come up with this list.
So far the twenty-one things that make a paraeducator really able to be the most versatile in a day:
- A good paraeducator shows up to do the job at hand.
Believe it or not, your teachers depend on you being where you are at certain times during the day. And it may not be just to help with your student in the class. This year, I had to escort a student after being injured in a classroom with unusual circumstances. The injury was minor. The minor pandemonium resulted in the teacher needing to take control of the class and me filling out the paperwork for a student being injured in the office. But had I not been there, the teacher might not have been able to get the appropriate help to their student and the class certain might not have been able to get around to its purpose. Stay off the cell phone, participate in the class, help out the teacher, be proactive.
- A good paraeducator listens.
Whether listening to a student, teacher, or other staff member, you should be actively listening. Students, both with and without disabilities have a lot going on, and you are an adult who can help in the classroom.
You listen to your teachers with instructions and directives with how a lesson is going to proceed.
- A good paraeducator observes.
Observation needs to happen of the interactions between students, between student and teacher, between students and staff. You are looking for the things that are important to the teacher and the classroom. And, the honest truth, sometimes you don’t know what you are going to look for. And sometimes you hear things and you aren’t quite sure when to put them together, but the information you take in, don’t forget. Your observations might mean more when you are able to put the entire puzzle together.
- A good paraeducator knows how to effectively use downtime.
Downtime is a gift. A student is absent, a class is having a fun activity, or even an early release, and the students are gone but you are still on campus. All of these times are good times to update data about a student, to plan out how to approach upcoming topics in classes with students, to find out about the other students on campus so you can be prepared if you are ever needed to help with the student, to confer and figure out what is going on with other paraeducators on campus, or what is going on in other classes.
- A good paraeducator models behaviors expected on campus.
There is a laundry list of rules on a campus. Paraeducators are another set of adults to get that information to the students and enforce the rules as necessary. You also model the way that students do activities: New styles of notes, even taking notes, working on craft projects.
In emergencies, students are looking to you (as another adult on campus) for information. They know that you can handle the situation and help students get to where they need to be safely.
- A good paraeducator looks for opportunities to be invisible.
This goes hand in hand with observation. Being invisible means you might be able to see good things that happen. The student who avoided work all period asks a peer finally for help or to join a group. You can get to know how other classmates interact and know what will happen.
- A good paraeducator doesn’t fear the class or the class material.
There are classes of students for whatever reason is just the wrong combination of students. There are the classes that you might not even like to be in. (Anyone afraid of an English class? The Woodshop? PE locker rooms?) You aren’t being tested. You can learn the material with your students. You are a role model. You can make it through the lessons. It’s just one day at a time.
- A good paraeducator knows their limits.
Maybe you can no longer lift a two by four in woodshop. Maybe you are afraid of the tools in woodshop. A paraeducator should have a relationship with the teachers they work with to ask about the material in class and understand it the way the teacher would like the work completed. A paraeducator is not supposed to be all knowing and find the material themselves, though many times this is what ends up happening.
In a classroom, you know the limits of the role in a classroom. You aren’t taking over a classroom. You are not teaching material, even if you know it (especially if you think you know it, you might mis-teach an important concept.)
- A good paraeducator enjoys their interactions with staff and teachers.
Helping on your campus is one of your main goals. And getting along with the other staff and teachers will help you not just because you are a member of that community by working there, but because when you are in a pinch, you’ll need them too.
- A good paraeducator has a good sense of humor.
You know that little quirk your student has, the one you’re not trying to encourage anymore. But when it happens, it makes you smile. The laughter of success when a student accidently did something wrong, but managed to make the outcome in the same way ultimately.
- A good paraeducator knows when to take a break.
Good days and bad days happen. Good moments and bad moments happen. And sometimes, it just is too hard to be professional. Being able to understand when even a moment of happiness is going to be too much in your life at that moment is important. Take a sick day. Take a fifteen-minute break.
- A good paraeducator takes data as directed consistently.
If you see a student with a new behavior once is probably not going to be a problem. A second time something happens these might needs attention, and then consistently, takes data. Share the data. Take data in a manor that is useful to everyone to understand. Take data in ways that are useful for everyone. And discuss the data being taken.
- A good paraeducator is aware of what is going on with their students.
This goes part and parcel with observation. But you also know what your student is dealing with in other classes, and how social interactions are going. You share the information with other people who may work with the student later in the day.
- A good paraeducator works with all the students in a classroom.
Especially if students do not appear that they have a disability, giving a student some space to try to attempt to do a worksheet, make social connections, or try the material on their own. When the other students see you as a resource, then you are really helping the school and not just that student. The students you work with in a class are your priority, but being able to step away from them is good for them too.
- A good paraeducator is a good sport.
There are so many things going on campus. And sometimes even in our own lives. And being able to count on your fellow co-workers when things are tough makes all of these moments easier. When a student is having a hard day or when you have had a lot of things getting piled on you. Being able to depend on your entire team will help and make things better. It feels good to support staff on campus and it feels even better to know that you can turn to another staff member if things are ever that hard.
- A good paraeducator knows what is going on campus.
Someone should always know which events students are going to, opportunities for students to participate in activities with their general education peers, things that they might be able to take part in. They also know the upcoming major events, they know how to navigate a quick escape route for an assembly, and are aware of all sorts of things that students are up to.
- A good paraeducator knows how to paraphrase and question to help develop a student’s understanding of the material.
Mary Riordan is the best at this. I have watched her get material out of a student that was locked away in some deep recess because she knew what sort of question to ask. What she is really doing is helping a student demonstrate the material usually by scribing for them, but trying to gauge what the student does understand about the topics in the case that when a test happens, she will be able to have a conversation about the student’s knowledge on the topic with the teacher.
- A good paraeducator knows that it is up to the student to do the work.
The art project does not have to be perfect. The student needs to follow directions. The history research paper needs to be at least typed by the student (or dictated), and use the student’s words. It is the student’s grade, not the paraeducator’s.
- A good paraeducator is mentally flexible.
You spent the morning sitting through an assembly, now you have students who are still learning to count in math and then an hour later you are helping the eighth grade class with a dissection and maybe you can squeeze in a copying session in the five minutes between classes. And inbetween all of this, a student you are responsible for is having a melt down. Switching between tasks is taxing on the best of professionals.
- A good paraeducator knows at the end of the day they’ve done all they can to help a student.
Students are going to resist education, help, circumstances, and authority. And sometimes all of these may collide at once and you will have to take a student to the office for a serious offense. Or you had to get campus security to escort a student. Sometimes there are more serious consequences. Those are the days when you have to sit back and assess only the black and white. Did you follow the behavior support plant? Did you really do all you could? And the answer most often is: Yes. You can not be happy that a student got suspended, but you were not the one who caused those actions.
- A good paraeducator understands and uses Q-TIP.
Q-TIP, Quit Taking It Personally. Students and staff are not actually setting up things to happen in the day to make your life miserable. Take a deep breath. You don’t have to be perfect. Your students aren’t perfect. You may have the most absurd demands placed on you because of the job you do, but nothing is so vital, even when it is, it can wait. Sit back, observe, take data, be there at the job, be professional, and be human. That’s all the job really is about.
I had tried to get to 25. But my job called and I really don’t like writing after 9 pm on a work night. Please add more that we might have forgotten at our Facebook page: ParaEducate or find us on Twitter @Paraeducate.
Do you have any questions about this week’s blog? Do you want to offer a guest blog? Find ParaEducate online here, here, here, here, and on our website. ParaEducate is a company interested in providing materials, information, and strategies for people working in special education inclusion settings for grades K-12. ParaEducate, the blog, is published weekly during the academic school year on Thursdays, unless a holiday. ParaEducate shares their findings at conferences, through their books, and their academic adaptations.