Letters to ParaEducate #2

Our mailbag has been getting full again. We’ve found a couple here to help you out at the beginning of the school year.

Dear ParaEducate,

What should I be doing during class? I mean seriously…what am I doing in a class with my student?


I graduated from high school and have no interest in trying to do it again.

 Dear Graduated,

I’m going to focus on your signature first. If you’re assigned to a student in a general education class, that’s right, you’re not trying to pass the class again. You’re helping a student to understand the nuances of what the teacher is talking about and make sure they have enough tools to perhaps understand the material as it is presented.

So what should you be doing in the classroom? Whatever the teacher has asked the students to do. Class is taking notes, you take notes. If the class is working on the computer and there isn’t enough computers for you, you could be answering questions of students as they work on the computer. If your student has more needs, you should be observing your student for changes in behavior or a request, especially if the student uses an alternative communication system. If the class is giving presentations, you are politely setting an example of watching and observing the presentations.

There are a lot of things to do. Sometimes you can feel lost in a room, and it is about learning to work with your teacher. I wish you the best of luck.



Dear Paraeducate,

I’m lost with all the material the teachers are covering and it’s just the third day. How can I best help my students?


Pending Anxiety Attack

Dear Anxiety,

Take a deep breath. Hold it. Let it out slowly. And repeat.

You do not have to solve all the year’s problems that first week.

There are two reasons teachers give a lot of information at the beginning of the school year. The first is they want to set the tone and bar for the class’s expectations. And then they’re also testing that bar across the classroom. They will adjust their expectations for their students in that specific class, but they want the students to know where the bar is. They love seeing students reach for the challenge just as much as we do. However, saying that, with a student who is likely to shut down due to work load expectations, this can be very nerve wracking. But this is when getting to know your student over time will become easier.

You need to believe that a student is going to be the most flexible, even when it is not in their nature. Students will be fine.

Just breathe. Slowly. It will be okay. I promise. The beginning of the year is meant to go over your head. It takes time. You’ll figure out. I have faith in you.



Dear ParaEducate,

You seem to have an axe to grind against the ignorance of general eduction teachers. What gives? Most of the paraeducators I see are hardly capable of walking in a straight line, so I don’t want them in my room.


Proud general education teacher

Dear General education teacher,

I actually love my general education teachers who manage to work wonders with a variety of students with disabilities. They seek to challenge the entire class tempered with the knowledge that some of their students will probably only be able to say ‘hi’ to them. They manage to negotiate the challenges of producing five different tests for four students with disabilities throughout their day. They greet each day with a set smile and know that even the rough days someone has learned something; the general education teacher I describe only hopes it is the correct information that the student will never forget. The general education teachers I describe though are few.

I understand the challenge. You aren’t an expert on the variety of disabilities that are approaching your classroom door. And while you may have a First Aid and CPR card you actually may not have been trained on specific medication a student may be taking in the event of an emergency.

A paraeducator in your classroom is looking for social opportunities for your student with a disability. They are also looking for better academic success for the student, ways that you may not be aware exist. Students who come in with skills well below that of their peers might need to contribute in a different way. Paraeducators can see that, and help bridge that gap between your frustrations and informing the case manager to share with you some hints how to better reach a student.  The paraeducator is on your side.

My advice, ask your students’ case manager for who they view as their best paraeducator for a little while. Watch how they observe and negotiate your classroom. You’ll find how they help enrich not only the students’ learning, but your own understanding of nuances that you may have been aware were occurring in your classroom, but hadn’t had a clue how to address just yet.

Enjoy the partnership. Be open to being a partner in learning, not just for the student with a disability but for all the students.



Do you have a question for us?  Find ParaEducate online herehere 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.

About paraeducate

ParaEducate is a company run to help reach out to paraeducators or paraprofessionals in public K-12 schools, giving advice, talking about publications that ParaEducate produces, and other useful information regarding working in public school settings.
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