There are many types of paraprofessionals as well as responsibilities that befall paraprofessionals. After a while, we lose sight of what exactly the paraprofessional position entails. To further understand paraprofessionals we must know that these terms are.
WHAT IS A PARAPROFESSIONAL?
According to Google the meaning of a paraprofessional is as follows:
Lately, the term paraprofessional has been deemed to assistant educators. According to this definition paralegals and paramedics fall under the paraprofessional umbrella because they are not licensed and work under a fully qualified professional lawyers and doctors.
Many schools use the title paraprofessional for their educational support employees and in their job descriptions. However, according to the National Resource Center for Paraeducators (NRCP), the term paraprofessional was changed to paraeducators in 1989. The graph below, also provided by Google, shows us how the use of term “paraprofessional” has declined since the change.
WHAT IS A PARAEDUCATOR?
Anna Lou Pickett, the founder and the first director for the NRCP stated:
“Paraeducators support and assist teachers and other practitioners in various disciplines, just as their counterparts in law and medicine are designated as paralegals and paramedics.”~National Resource Center for Paraeducators
Furthermore, Anna also
“suggested that the term “PARAEDUCATOR” be used to more accurately describe the nature of today’s “teacher aides”.”~NRCP
ESSENTIAL EXPECTATIONS FOR PARAEDUCATORS
There are many roles that fall under the paraeducator umbrella. I have been a Special Ed Para, a 1:1 Preschool Para, and a 1:1 Individual Intensive Bilingual Para. Other types of paras also include media paras, resource paras, inclusion paras, the list goes on. However, whichever para position you choose to pursue or are currently in, these 5 expectations are essential for all successful paras.
1. BE TIMELY
Most paras are hourly employees and are expected to show up on time and must clock in no more than 5min early and no later than 5min after the end of the workday.
If you are employed for a district that is part of a union then this is truly essential. Plus, not every school district is going to have a kick-ass principal that sees you come and go and be present at work but are often, quite often, a bit late and instead of reprimanding you she completely understands you and oversees it because she knows what it’s like to be a mom. (You know who you are, wink)
Unions are awesome but you also have to make sure you are abiding by their guidelines, so be punctual. Need more time management tips? Learn more here.
2. LEAVE THE DRAMA AT THE DOOR
With Fellow Paras: Sometimes we get caught up in the drama of he said she said bull and the comparison game. You will hear many experienced educators belittle new paras, but you are stronger than that. You will see new paras belittle experienced paras but you are better than that. Instead, new and experienced paras should be open-minded and learn from each other. Experience paras should help new paras with becoming more comfortable around the students and new paras can help experienced paras with the tech aspect of the profession.
With Fellow Teachers and Administratros: Maybe your drama is not with other fellow paras but with the teacher or administrator. The best advice I can give you is to remember why you became a para in the first place and focus on teamwork and get the job done. You are there for the students and if the teacher or administrators are B’s then those students need you more than ever. So if that requires you to “yes ma’am” those B’s and mind your “P’s” and “Q’s” then do it!
That being said if you are not willing to tolerate such nonsense from a para, teacher, or administrator and want to fight the system then you need to arm yourself with ammunition and prepare yourself for war. By ammunition I mean evidence of said individual(s) breaking school policy or violating union contract. Request your union rep and follow the guidelines for a sit down with your administrator. I don’t want to discourage anyone from taking this route for it is our right! However, I did say to prepare for war. I know from experience, that paras that have undertaken this route have not always had the outcome be in their favor. Many results of this route may be room transfer, school transfer, or job termination.
3. USE YOUR WORDS
We are constantly telling kids “use your words” but we often forget to do so ourselves. Internally we hold:
- misconceptions as truths
Doing such things is toxic for our well being and only hinders our success as paraeducators. We should always opt to :
- communicate our limits
- not be afraid to ask for a break when we need one
- stop the fear of confrontation and address someone for any offense or misconception
- always respect others
- guard ourselves, by preventing the weeds of misunderstanding to take root.
Communication is also vital when it comes to students. It is great to communicate with teachers, therapists, and other room paras about what works best with your students when they need a break, as well as any suggestions or recommendations you may have that will help your student grow. Remember, you are the students’ advocate, especially if they are nonverbal. I cannot, I.can.not. emphasize the importance of communication.
4. TRACK DATA
Administrators expect paras to keep data of their students progress. Most teachers provide data sheets for their paras and also inform them of what data they need for them to collect from students. Paras should have the teachers’ requested amount of data by the end of the quarter for report cards. Data is essential for tracking:
- student’s growth
- techniques work and which ones don’t
- the list is endless!
Keeping data helps the teachers, therapists, and administrators better serve the students. Therefore, tracking your student and keeping good data is crucial for students’ developmental growth.
5. BE POSITIVE
In this profession having a sense of humor and keeping a positive attitude is crucial CRUCIAL for survival. Keep it light. Special needs students sense heavy negative energy. Studies have shown that people with a positive attitude are contagious and others gravitate towards it. No one wants to be around “Debbie Downer” and “Negative Nancy” (sorry Debbie and Nancy). A way to have a positive attitude is to participate in school events, spirit wear, spirit days, weeks, so don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself and dress up for Dr. Seuss and 100 Day of School. But also be selective for after school activities. I’m a mother of four:
If you are an experienced para you might ask yourself “What? That’s it?” Where are the expectations of bites, scratches, hair pulling, screaming and other hazards of the job?”
Though these are possibilities that I have personally experienced. They are not the experiences of all paras, nor essential to be a successful para.
IT’S ALL GOOD!
In the beginning, all paras feel a bit overwhelmed with all that it entails being a parapro. Don’t allow stress to grow because you want to know it all now. Apply what you know, don’t be afraid to ask for help, and when you face a challenge seek the information to learn what you need. Remember to take it one step at a time and have fun because if you are not having fun, you are not loving it and if you are not loving it, you WILL burn out. So when you are ready to be a para, have these essential expectations ready to remind you of the expectation of A successful ParaPro.
What are some of your expectations for paraeducators?