It is mid-year. An unfortunate truth is: someone may have left your campus or you have had holes in your schedule all year long. But that’s okay. However, what qualities are we really looking for in a paraeducator? What makes them ready for working with a person with a disability?
I am lucky enough to work with a few districts that do employ substitutes whose express job is to fill in for paraeducators all over the district. While this presents many challenges to the individual, this also has given me a great sense of the types of people that come to work at schools and have a variety of experiences worthy of demonstrating the need for better training.
But what makes that leap from temporary to permanent? Here are some things that I have seen in good potential candidates.
The paraeducator who can make the commitment to be there for as much of the academic year as possible.
Look the situation is rough for everyone. The general education teacher, the students, and the staff. Having that extra person, that person who will commit to trying their best will make those transitions easier.
The paraeducator who doesn’t seek to give all the possible answers to the student.
The hard part of the job is watching a student struggle. Especially a student who already has some huge odds stacked against them. But struggling through life is pretty much par for the course.
The paraeducator who just wants to be the students’ friend.
I’m looking out for this because this is what I don’t want. Rapport is good. Familiarity and reliability is the hallmark of a paraeducator. But only being their friend makes a lot of situations difficult. Especially when it comes to reporting specific behavior. The goal should not be friendship. The goal should be mutual respect.
The paraeducator who looks for materials and ways to demonstrate learning in other ways.
Can the student give the answers verbally? Can the student use context clues in reading or with specific tools (ruler, microscope, or map) to find the answer they really need? Is the student able to be a good leader and get everyone involved in the project.
The paraeducator who can see beyond the tunnel of the things that need to get done.
The point of school is to learn. But when that is all said and done, there are lots of things that can be also learned that aren’t in books. How to work with others, how to greet someone, how to speak up for yourself, and how to make decisions. Giving opportunities to do these other equally important learning moments is pretty key in every student’s life.
The paraeducator who knows that their own understanding of disabilities does not end with meeting that one student with a disability.
Certainly there are many types of disabilities. Some are much more common than others. It is not going to happen with learning with books, and it may not happen learning with lectures. While they give insights, those aren’t the definitive final answers for finding out more about specific disabilities.
What I know is ultimately, I may not have a lot of control over who I work with. Paraeducators are usually the last ones consulted about potential hires. Good paraeducators are hard to find, but great ones make a difference for everyone.
Are you interested in participating as a Guest Blogger for ParaEducate? Do you have a question for us? Find ParaEducate online here, 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.