As a title, we’ve been working on this blog post for something close to two years. We thought this was mostly an academic problem and it’s an academic and a communication problem. And nothing turned our eyes more than today.
So when we say our story started two years ago, Renay was observing paraeducators in multiple settings working with students. Now the argument that lives primarily in schools is that the learning comes from teachers and between students. The incomplete idea sometimes yields an inference of paraeducators aren’t able to lead direct instructions. But, that just isn’t the case. We know paraeducators are educated, whether a formal degree or through the time hardened methods of life experiences. We know that paraeducators understand complex academic materials as well as their teachers with whom they work. We also know that paraeducators bring a variety of useful skills and experiences that enrich the culture of a school. Did you know that a paraeducator grew up in Haiti on your campus? Did you know Haiti is endanger of a cholera epidemic because of the damage inflicted due to Hurricane Matthew? Did you know two of your staff members actually have degrees in architecture and can explain how arches work to transfer loads and are a superior design element in Ancient Rome and how architectural features of the Dome and Vault are variations of this element? Did you know that this paraeducator was a State recognized winner of an annual essay contest four three years in high school? These are just a tiny example of the skills your paraeducator brings to the classroom.
We’ve also seen the opposite happen academically, when a paraeducator diverges in a discussion of a principle of science or a question asked on a science page. Once again, unfortunately, this is behavior that leads back to the point that paraeducators aren’t teachers. But that’s the point: they’re not teachers. But this incomplete story would be solved with more time to discuss the upcoming unit nuances. If the paraeducator had an idea of all the material covered, then they would be better prepared to have leading questions and not direct students into misinformation.
Paraeducators are often victims of “throw into situation and let’s see what they do”. This is true with technology, AAC, specific disabilities. And even the training someone may directly recieve may be partial and incomplete. How new vocabulary gets introduced for someone with an AAC depends on what stage of communication they are at. How certain devices are actually used or even software students use on a regular basis in a computer class may also be subjected to this methodology. Some paraeducators just don’t learn indirectly and they know this about themselves.
But incomplete stories also exist in other places. Sometimes the incomplete story is confidential. We don’t always know which students are on parole, but we can usually guess pretty well. We also don’t always know why students have certain behaviors that aren’t a distinct mark of their disabilities, but we know and remember the warning signs of abuse and teenage depression. We know the incomplete stories that are amazing stories of resilience demonstrated by families and students with disabilities. We also know the incomplete stories that worry us late at night for students and their families who may not have as much resilience.
We know other incomplete stories due to a student’s inability to tell you the complete story of the day. And then, the question is how to get the student back on track for the class or the day so education can happen. When a student feels their problem is a “5” and it’s really about a “2”, what skills do you bring to help re-direct the student so they can feel they are heard and their issues at hand are addressed by you as an advocate for them? How do you guide a story of events that have happened to a student at school so they are able to share the events that upset the student? How do you balance a report of how a student may have behaved two hours previously with the behavior you see now?
The incomplete story, ironically, is incomplete. But it is not without solutions.
- Use communication methods with your teachers. Email or monthly meetings before or after academic teaching times. Get an idea of what units will cover, ask about specific technical information so you might be able to understand and explain it better to students who need more concrete details.
- Use specific graphic organizers or rating scales with students. Find out from the case managers how best to use them with the student. If the student is able to write or cares to, give them a safe place to do so.
- Know your campus and district systems for highlight students who are suspected of receiving abuse or are in need of mental health support. Recognize that mental health is important at any age and any ability level.
- Remember that your incomplete story is not always seen by all faculty and administrators. Join in moments like staff parties, after hours drinks, or trivia nights so faculty and administrators can get to know you and learn your expertise.
The year is just one fourth of the way complete. What will be this year’s incomplete story?
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.