Eight Hours with A Paraeducator

Much has been said recently about an article when a teacher shadowed students to see what they see, and what they experience. For years, I have been advocating for one of two things to happen: either a day without paraeducators in the school or for administrators to shadow paraeducators. The point isn’t to increase any one specific agenda other than to value the paraeducators/paraprofessionals in education in public schools. There are thousands of amazing paraeducators across the country, managing amazing hours with students with all sorts of needs.

Instead, I can only give you one of several stories of paraeducators; as far as I see it, this is an open series. Names and schools have been changed for confidentiality. Should you wish to join with your story, feel free to leave a comment or email ParaEducate directly.

Casey has been working as a paraeducator for ten years. She is not the most senior paraeducator on campus, but other paraeducators look to her for training and information regarding strategies and information about the students with disabilities.

Casey works a full academic day, 7 classes in 8 hours in a California public middle school.

First period: Casey is assigned to nine students with disabilities in PE. Of the nine students, five are female, one has a health alert, two are on the autism spectrum, six have a variety of specific learning disabilities, and one is often a bully target. To complicate this morning schedule: three students are in another grade and thusly a whole other class.

Casey has to round up a student who has come out of the locker room full of energy and remind him that roll hasn’t been taken yet and he needs to stay where the PE teachers can check him in. No PE teacher is out at roll yet, three separate classes of nearly 50 students each are in small clusters talking and laughing.

Class begins and this will be the last eye contact Casey can make with her students in another class. The younger students are sent off on a warm up run. Casey has to do no prompts to get all her students to go with the class, though two walk the lap and the third runs part of the lap and walks back in the wrong direction.

The class reviews the material for the day lead by the teacher. The majority of the class is participating only partially so Casey isn’t too concerned when a student comes up to ask for a break. She takes him outside of the room they are in and he paces in varying degrees of speed. The door is open; she has half an ear to the class and the four other students she has left in the room with the teacher. The class is dismissed to return to the locker room.

Casey will make one sweep through the locker room to check in with the girls only and make sure they were able to open their lockers. At this point of the year, none of the students need orientation to their next classes, so Casey grabs a bathroom break between classes. A bathroom break only lasts as long as Casey can find an unoccupied bathroom and use the bathroom. This is probably the closest she will come to a break all morning.

Second: This is the first class that Casey will make contact with other paraeducators. There are again, three classes of almost fifty students. The unusual part of this day, she makes contact with someone who is working in an academic student in another class. They exchange ideas of how to better integrate technology that the student uses into the class at hand as well as academic goals for the class.

This class she is with has two students, one with a health alert another with an intellectual disability. The class takes a warm up run, which she has to encourage a student to actively run. As she finishes with this, she spots the case manager for a student she will have later in the day. She fishes in a rather full backpack for a test that was given to her by a science teacher and they review the material and make plans for an adapted test for the student. By this time, the entire class has returned and begun stretching. Casey participates on the fringes with the class, the student who has an intellectual disability has volunteered as the stretching leader. The class completes the warm up and moves into push-ups and curl ups. The student with a health alert makes eye contact with Casey. Casey turns and looks at the wall as an alternative activity for the student. The student goes over and does wall ups instead. The main activity is ready, the students break up into teams, including the two students that Casey is responsible for, and Casey will linger near their courts, but won’t be taking part in the activity. Earlier in the unit, Casey had been participating to help bolster underdeveloped skills. When class ends, Casey makes it to the other end of class where she will help with an intervention class.

Third: Casey has two students this period, a far cry from two periods of PE. She shares the room with another paraeducator and a student who are in a study hall. Casey is responsible this period for helping to increase the student’s reading abilities. A variety of activities await these students. The teacher for this class has provided a reading intervention program, a spelling program, and grammar lessons. Casey contributes two more reading cycles including using the Accelerated Reading Program and just reading aloud from a current popular fiction book with the students. The students have a lot of latitude for working with Casey but there is a lot of mutual respect. The students are rewarded for their participation and behavior.

Fourth: Casey cleans up from third and heads to the science wing. She prepares a spot at the lab table with a few paper towels and moves some stools out of the way. Her student comes in; he uses a wheel chair. It takes the student a few moments to get oriented in the classroom and he comes over to his “spot”, which is in front of the classroom. As soon as he is parked, Casey removes basically everything from his backpack and sets it up. First comes the student’s laptop. Everything the student does in class will be on this device. Casey consults this student’s communication log and then checks him over to make sure he has all his personal needs covered.

The student’s laptop open, she opens his word processing program and a communication device. Everything on the board gets transcribed into his laptop. She might rephrase or direct a student to a specific question for the warm up.

Any papers handed to the student are examined both by Casey and the student. The student asks for a highlighter and the student points to places along the paper to highlight. Casey follows his directions, keeping an ear to the teacher and writing important notes that the student misses while requesting to have the assignment highlighted. The papers are filed in a folder for class.

Half way through class, Casey directs the student to stretch, even though the class is deep in a discussion with the classroom teacher. The student does so for a minute and returns to the class discussion. He reaches over and taps out a sentence requesting something. To get Casey’s attention when she is marking up his packet for what he can complete, he gently grabs her arm. She looks over and sees that the student is signing for something. She gets out the item he has requested and he uses the item. The case manager for the student walks in and hands Casey a series of papers. Casey files them away in a binder for later in her backpack. She writes in the student’s communication book. It will take Casey nearly five minutes to pack her student up at the end of class and then watch him make it to his next class.

It is noon, Casey has seen 10 different students with disabilities, been in four different classes, made actual contact with nearly 110 general education students.

Fifth period: Casey walks into another science class. The students in this class are older working on harder conceptual material. There are five students with disabilities in this class, but she is only responsible directly for two, and will cover a third for a co-worker without hesitation. The material in this class actually taps into some of the material that Casey went to college for and has a lot of knowledge to impart. In addition to Casey, there are two paraeducators and three interns who rotate through the week. While one paraeducator is from Casey’s department, the other paraeducator is a part of Title I. Students in this class are encouraged to work independently on their work. Casey picks up her student’s communication books. It takes about five minutes each to address parental concerns and highlight the information that the students need to focus on.

Casey’s main job in this class is to prepare materials for the modified class that is parallel to this curriculum. There are three students who directly benefit from Casey’s insights into the science material, one this period and two in a later period.

Casey participates in the class discussion contrasting Scientific Laws and Scientific Theories. She points out cases in history and across the other classes the students are in that lend themselves to the definition of Law verses Theory.

This class ends and it is finally time for lunch. Thirty minutes duty free are cut as tightly as possible. If a student needs assistance, Casey will be supportive, but that’s all she gets every day. She mostly has given up her fifteen-minute break at the beginning of the workday. While the Union in her district has been really working on getting that cleared up, Casey has not been able to really get away with the students on her schedule.

Casey has met up with thirteen students with disabilities, five different classes and teachers, 130 general education students. Each student has an average of ten goals in a variety of categories, over two different case managers. When you quiz Casey about the goals of the students, she knows those, she is not as certain about who has which case manager. However, in her backpack, she has a collection of papers she can refer to in a moment’s notice.

Sixth comes right after lunch.

There are only twenty-five students in this class, but there are three students with three very different needs in this period. Fortunately there is another paraeducator who comes and works with one student. Casey has another student one on one. The third student is shared with concerns. The class sits in groups. The teacher works with the entire class on the activities. Three more communication logs to review. The students are preparing for a test the next day. Casey asks the general education teacher for the test, but it’s just not available yet.

Last class of the day is not too far away.

For Casey, she has stood nearly 60% of her day. While some of it is moving around, circulating a class, sometimes in a packed classroom, the only choice she has is to stand. Standing is healthy, but is physically tiring when it also involves note taking, fetching for someone, keeping heads up on five different moving bodies in multiple environments. I have a lot of sympathy for Casey by the time she gets to this last hour of the day when all she does is sit in one spot and manage her students assigned to her.

Study Hall begins, two more communication logs. Casey lets me know she is an alternative to work with a student she had earlier in the day. There are six students in the room, three in the same grade, but only two have the same classes most of the day. Two are older students; the other four are a grade behind. One student isn’t in study hall this period, but in a pinch, the period is used to catch him up, if nothing else, Casey borrows his technology to get information off to print for him. All the groups are headed by a paraeducator; there are four different groups. Each group has its own rules, but any paraeducator can help guide the instruction of the students and the four of the paraeducators trade information often.

Casey’s expertise in advanced mathematics and strategies to teach students with disabilities advanced mathematics are used this period. She learned these strategies from a math teacher in the district when they worked together.

An alarm goes off from someone’s cell phone with three minutes left of class. The students pack up and get ready to leave. The final bell rings, and everyone is out of the classroom in a minute.

What I want to take away from this encounter:

  • Casey and her co-paraeducators are trusted to work independently. Whether this is a reflection of the way the teachers manage their paraeducators or the reflection of the fact that the paraeducators in this team are well vetted, it’s hard to say, but everyone is working.
  • Casey is constantly working. Even when she isn’t moving, she is assessing what prompts, if any, to give her student. She’s trying to give her students a chance to react and find their own way through the material.
  • Paraeducators need to get more down time. The down time is highly valuable to them.
  • Paraeducators are making more contact with students possible for some teachers. They are valuable assets in being eyes and ears for all sorts of behaviors in a school setting.

Would you like to submit your story of your 8 hours? Do you have a question for us?  Find ParaEducate online hereherehere 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.

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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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