This week, Renay was mostly out due to illness. But it reminded us of a constant idly threat that sometimes is tossed around: what would inclusion be without a paraeducator?
Actually, sometimes inclusion is actually more possible without a paraeducator. It sounds strange, but we’ve seen situations usually just elementary and pre-school where a paraeducator isn’t really part of the strategy. But this really mostly applies to students disabilities that aren’t specific to a health or safety issue.
Other campuses use co-teaching where a general education teacher and a special education teach work together. Which is great until the special education teacher needs to help diffuse a student situation in another part of campus, a major report needs to be filled out, or there is a parent who demands to meet with you during the class time. Co-teaching works best if both teachers understand the materials. It cannot be up to the general education teacher to teach the material. Often we hear from these special education teachers that they don’t have time or expertise to devote to understanding the materials. And some co-teachers teach across multiple grade levels. So it is quite understandable that it is harder to grasp basic information, write an IEP, attend a district mandated meeting, and fulfill required hours on campus.
So why paraeducators? Most aren’t certified to be useful in any educational capacity. They are woefully under trained, under paid, under respected, and in some cases ignored by both students and general education teachers.
But imagine that your classroom didn’t have that student, or students, with disabilities. Certainly your class could be smaller by three to five students. Perhaps other students would be placed there. The dynamic of the class would certainly be different. If you were lucky, you would know the students with disabilities would be “over there” somewhere else, theoretically getting some sort of education. Whether you believed that students with disabilities could learn, and could specifically learn academic material as you presented it, wouldn’t be up to you because you weren’t that student’s teacher.
Other than missing out on meeting amazing individuals, it seems like a plausible world. Perhaps one that could work in your favor as a general education teacher. But here are a few things you’re missing out on.
Paraeducators have leverage that teachers do not. They have the freedom to look at problems (academic, social, and emotional) from other points of view. Sometimes a paraeducator needs to be that one that says, “Nope, [this student] is going to do this [assignment, group activity].” Certainly, the student isn’t going through all of the steps, but it’s about recognizing a student with a disability in a classroom is a member of the classroom community. And they see that student, or another student, perhaps without a disability, in a classroom of thirty students. A paraeducator has the ability to focus on one or two students for success, something that cannot always happen through the general education teacher.
Paraeducators have figured out the information they need to know to do their job. They need to know more than just the surface of every disability, they need to know the disability and its presentation in each student that they work with. They need CPR and First Aid first responder training. They need to understand how their natural responses in stressful situation, like when a student violently protests or throws things, changes how the student deescalates in their moment of crisis. They know more about alternative strategies not because they’ve had special training they’ve worked it out with a variety of students and aren’t afraid of asking the questions they need to understand.
And as far as variety goes, paraeducators are in all sorts of classes, art, music, science, math, English, history, and they are picking up the material along with the students. Some of the paraeducators even retain the information as well as the students do and can prepare for future students in the next year.
The opportunities that do not exist for some students without paraeducators are quite limited. How do they meet other peers in their age group? How do they make friends with folks who do not have disabilities? How do they become valued by the community that they live in? Inclusion lives within the fact that everyone belongs. Paraeducators can facilitate with that fact.
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.