This post is from November 16, 2012. We had to completely reset our blog in May 2014. Instead of backdating our blog posts, it was decided we would select some of our best posts and get those up over summer. Enjoy!-ParaEducate
Inclusion facilitators, special education teachers, and paraeducators working in general education classrooms are frequently asked, by new parents, teachers, substitute teachers, and students, “Who are you?” Renay has been a paraeducator for 8+ years now and shares her perspective today on how to answer that questions and highlights the role of a paraeducator in an inclusive classroom.
Every year, this question comes about. And every year, at least in my district, every school has a different way of addressing this issue. It’s not just based on the age of the student population, but on the number of years of experience that the teachers have on campus and the years of experience with special education students.
Sometimes it is very easy to fly under the radar. You have to sit with that student because you are getting all their materials. You have to quietly escort the student who is overwhelmed out with the balance between compassion and tough love.
But there are times when a student has a mild disability that it makes things unclear. What else can you bring? Or if you have been asked to leave a classroom because the general education teacher believes they can handle the student(s), then to what end? Even when their IEP says the student needs to have additional supervision?
A school belongs to everyone who is involved on campus on a daily basis. And here is what I normally would say.
To the Students
The ten second answer is: I work at your school and I help everyone.
Ten seconds. Even if you paraphrase back to me: I have only 10 seconds to make an impression.
But that is not the job description on paper.
In special education I am an expert at reading impressively quickly and containing knowledge in a way that most people feel I boarder on the lines of genius. I don’t just get to relearn everything to explain the concepts to someone else, you have to often reteach and rework through struggles. I also have to be aware of the fine line from making things understood in the easiest way to misinterpreting the material in any class.
I cannot be afraid of the shop classes, the auto repair class, the sewing class, the cooking class, the music class, or even English, Math, and Science. I am in there for the students.
But what about all the other questions?
“Why are you at the dance?”
“What does she mean when she rocks and mumbles to herself?”
To these sometimes honest is simply the best policy. Or redirection.
The comes the little digs.
“You don’t belong here.”
“Why can’t he learn that I’m not interested in talking to him?”
I am undoubtedly the most interesting spy. Sometimes I’m nothing more than a fly on the wall. Other times I am going to take the time and talk you through these social issues to help the student I’m actually working with.
I am here because your district, your campus, you should believe in inclusion. Inclusion is a lot of things, but for the students I work with, it is a civil right.
The students whether their disability is mild or severe are a part of the area that comes to this school. They should be treated like members of the community. They should be given opportunities to participate with their classmates.
The students want to greet you, to hear that you are as interested in their day as the day of a student who might be a model student. Even if a student spends the majority of their day in one or two rooms, they are welcomes into other classrooms so they can participate with their peers in age appropriate activities.
To that end: I am important on your campus because one of my jobs is to facilitate their activities with peers. I too need to be included with the staff at meetings. My role on your campus is not to simply just walk in on the first day and look around and hope I have the right students grouped. I bring experiences that may not necessarily be academic to the classroom. I may be artistic, I may excel with a calm nature, I might be able to work with anxious students, regardless of disability on presenting in front of the entire class. When the faculty see that I am included, they are likely to weigh my value and expertise especially in matters with a student’s progress.
To the Teachers
My job is to make your job easier. I am watching the class, I am watching the students with known medical issues. I am watching for details that you might not otherwise miss. I am willing to reteach, I am here to collaborate. I carry forth your classroom methods when you are not in the room.
And more importantly, I can get to the students that you might not be able to have enough time with because now there are more students in the room than ever before.
I am on your side. I want your students to enjoy the time in your classroom. I might even have materials that can help you reach the class as a whole in other ways.
Especially to a new teacher, I’m here to work with you and my students.
How do you respond when students, teachers, parents, or administrators ask you why you are in a classroom? Share your 10 second speech with us!
Do you have a question for us? Find ParaEducate online here, here and here. ParaEducate is 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.