What Do You Do With A ‘Paraeducator’?

This week’s Twitter #spedchat moderated by Nicole Eredics from The Inclusive Class caught me by surprise. Twitter chats have been actually a great way to find information from others in special education. This week’s questions lent themselves quite wonderfully for ParaEducate’s main soapbox: getting to focus on making sure all members of a student’s team are included on a campus.

But while ParaEducate was participating in this chat, something from my past kept bothering me. There were two instances, separated by ten years. The first and foremost happened just a few years ago. A new teacher, having learned that I worked on training new staff, turned to me and asked me if the book was useful for new teachers. I said it was. “That’s great, I have no clue what to do with you.” I thought it was rather odd because that new teacher was a special education teacher; Special Education teachers are usually given campuses where there are populations of paraeducators, at least from the universities near where I am. The future case manager in three days for students I had been working with for years. The second, was an older memory. In college, I was fortunate to go to school with a Marine who had served in Vietnam. He was working on his second job at this point. He told the story of one day when he and his buddies were sitting around doing nothing in particular. A supervisor came over and asked them what they were to be doing. “Sir, do you know what my job is?” he had asked the officer. With that question, the officer left them alone.

But those words have haunted me from my co-worker and my classmate in this job in ways that are rather profound. And they are especially poignant to the world of working as a paraeducator.

But what should you do with a small army at your behest? And what should you do with an established small army if you’re coming in?

For Case Managers/Special Education Teachers

  • Build a rapport. This can still be quite professional for those of you wondering about making certain your work/life dynamic. Realize that your paraeducators are most likely your closest co-workers. Building a little rapport demonstrates that you value their existence.
  • Find out all the skills a paraeducator might have. Yes I mean all. Soft skills, hard skills, classes that they like and dislike, teachers they directly associate with. You never know which skills are going to benefit a student and pairing up the right paraeducator can make all the difference to a student.
  • Build from relationships your paraeducators already have. If you’re new, don’t go around trying to forge new territory. Realize that paraeducators have been advocating for your students already. Build on that relationship to meet up with new teachers and make plans for your students and their academic progress.
  • Yes, you are a Boss, but validate your paraeducator’s input. You can be doing the observations, but your paraeducators has weeks of observations to contribute.
  • Be a grateful leader, not a reactionary despot.

For General Education Teachers

  • Build a rapport with your paraeducator. Find out what skills they bring to your classroom. Know that they might be able to contribute to the classroom discussions.
  • Feel free to watch the paraeducator and student(s) interact if you’re not certain how to have a conversation with the student(s) yet.
  • Have expectations of your students with disabilities. This could be understanding the vocabulary. This could be following the organizational systems. It could be turning in homework with the rest of the class. Some students will have the same expectations as any other student in the class, but for the students who have a harder time with classwork, make it clear to the student that they are going to participate in the most meaningful way possible.
  • Want to work with the student(s). Greet the student, find a reason to watch them work.

For Administrators

  • Know who your paraeducators are. Find out what their last places of occupation were.
  • Find your paraeducators on site and observe them in their job.
  • Treat your paraeducators like the valuable members of your staff they are.
  • Be supportive when behaviors of a student get out of control and proactive with responding to the situations helping the paraeducator and student find a better way to solve the issues in the classroom.

Paraeducators contribute to the diversity of the campus. The good paraeducators are always worth developing and add to all students’ learning. Paraeducators are a great way to help with make your campus more inclusive.

If you’re interested in #spedchat on Twitter, find us through Twitter Tuesday evenings 6pm PST, 9 EST. There is usually a moderator and a series of questions we all try to answer. It is quite challenging to keep up, but you can make some amazing connections and realize that you are not the only voice out there helping with Inclusion.

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.

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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