The “Broken” Paraeducator

There is a rare breed of paraeducator who manages past the second year. Even the fifth year. Being in a school where my veteran skills are dwarfed by people who are on their fifteenth and twentieth year, puts me in middle child syndrome. But even in this veteran group, I can see signs of “Broken Paraeducators”.

This is a person who has done several years of paraeducating. For whatever reason, they are now still here. But the paraeducator has had a series of events in their career that has lead to ‘broken’. You’ll see a paraeducator who might be reluctant to speak to a parent after school, even a friendly exchange, paraeducator who is reluctant to interact in a classroom with students, or you’ll find a paraeducator who has just been labeled “bad” and never given a chance to recover from that label.

There are a lot of reasons a paraeducator becomes broken. A few reasons include:

  • Stress from schedule changes, student changes.
  • Lack of technology working.
  • Lack of departmental communication
  • The feeling of isolation in their department

Broken paraeducators have a history trailing them: the district sometimes will bump them from campus to campus without much debrief. They have come from campuses where they were probably not trained. They have had years of experiences with one or a combination of students that have historically had behavior challenges and no support for that paraeducator. They were at a campus where they were treated as second class citizens. And in a few cases, they had great experiences and then one team assembled and it was just not a good fit for everyone involved. So they get labeled and moved on.

So what can we do for these paraeducators?

  1. Recognize that pareducators, are human. Even with all that a great paraeducator can do, a mistake can still happen. Give the paraeducator, a professional on a campus, a chance to make amends for the mistake.
  2. Check in with each other between case managers and other paraeducators. Just ask and see how they are doing. And try to do so without cornering the paraeducator. Honestly: they are running very scared of people in authority. Some mask it better than others, but they may have faced every level of discipline and being checked in on can feel threatening. Be supportive of your paraeducators, acknowledge they are fighting micro battles every day, and some they will share with you. If you observe without prejudice, you might find that their style works well for a particular student, general education teacher, or learning style.
  3. If you are a parent and your child is working with a known ‘broken’ paraeducator, or you think something is a little skittish about your paraeducator, give it time. Give them a smile when you see them at pick up and drop off, the paraeducator can just be slow to warm up socially, even when there may be restrictions on communication between paraeducators and families.
  4. As the paraeducator, be willing to take on a different perspective. You might learn what doesn’t work that you have keep doing. You might learn something new that you can keep using.
  5. For all parties: give it time. Time can help separate the ‘broken’ paraeducator from their experiences.

As much about building, the most important thing I want you to take away from this: broken paraeducators still care. They care, they come to work, and they try every day. All the barriers that are up in their job frustrate them and they haven’t necessarily been able to find success. They are desperately seeking solutions. They want to be valued. They want to be a member of your team. And they will be. Be patient. Welcome to the team.

It is Patriot’s Day in the United States. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention it. In 2001, most every person born before 1998 can remember that moment. They saw adults and teachers shake and cry. They may have seen footage later of the buildings collapse. I need to say that as I write this on September 10, 2014, my life changed 13 years ago. I had been a recent graduate from college at that point and I had just been through a grueling series of interviews, that resulted with the very exciting phrase, “I think we will have a solid offer for you in the morning.” I was on my way, I thought my life’s work was just continuing on. I had spent the best part of my college career studying the process behind designing buildings for large scale governmental programs, and I was excited to try my wings in an architectural office. The next morning instead of a call with my job offer, I got a call saying that I would not be able to work with that firm. Their contracts, which would have supported the firm’s ability to employ me, had been canceled. The entire industry was re-evaluating how to secure buildings from potential attack.

And why do I talk about something so tangential? It’s because it is what lead me into ParaEducate. I would not have been out on a limb, learning an entire new industry and then inserting my knowledge into the industry with my architectural background without having gotten lost at the bottom of the economic changes.

Yes, my life changed completely on September 11, 2001, like many people who were alive that day in the United States. I had to take a different path and find a new way of deciding what success actually was for my life. And for that: I’m forever grateful. ParaEducate has become the medium in which I share lofty ambitions sometimes, but it is also about the messages of finding success in different ways, for a lot of different people.

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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