I know a paraprofessional
who was responsible for getting children off the bus in the morning. Among the
children who were helped off the bus was a student with multiple disabilities
who was amazingly adept at taking off her shoes and did so frequently. One
morning, the student arrived on the bus and had, predictably, in the course of
her ride, taken off her shoes. The paraprofessional collected the child and
promptly allowed her to walk into the school building without shoes, in nothing
but socks. In November. This was, in my view, an individual who was not trained
properly to work with students with disabilities.
In this final part of my
three part series, I will note three ideas that I have come across in literature
and in my personal experience that I believe might pave the way forward if we
are serious about providing paraprofessionals with the respect their
the training for paraprofessionals—especially those who work one on one with
students or in self-contained classrooms—simply must be improved. It very well
could be that in other states such training is already taking place, however, “[T]he nondatabased literature suggests that
preservice training for paraprofessionals is virtually nonexistent and
inservice training continues to be in-sufficient” (Giangreco,
Edelman, Broer, & Doyle, 2001; McGrath, Johns,
Mathur, 2010). Furthermore, McKenzie (2011) notes that improved training serves
to increase retention of special education paraprofessionals.
What I have found is
that most of the training takes place on the spot so that not only is the
classroom teacher trying to write curriculum, educate students with varying and
unique needs, collect data, and develop appropriate evidence-based
interventions, but he or she is also trying to educate adults in the ways of
prompts, classroom management, DTT, PBS, the Force, and…well, do I really need
to go on with this list?
It is an unreasonable
expectation of the teacher and an unfair distraction for the children for training
to occur on the spot. It needs to be conducted proactively and frequently.
Perhaps paraprofessionals, too, should receive professional days for
professional training seminars and such. If they are trained properly, from the
start, then we can avoid the disturbing scenes such as I mentioned above and,
consequently, entrust paraprofessionals with more serious responsibilities such
as dealing with difficult behavior, instruction in reading and math, and more.
I realize some training does take place in the manner I am suggesting. My point
is that paraprofessionals need more of it.
where are all the men? Seriously? A serious problem, from my perspective, is
the near complete absence of men in the role of special education
paraprofessional. In my experience, many of the children that I have seen in
the EBD classrooms (especially in student teaching) come from homes where men
are either not the biological father, not present at all, the parents are split
so that maybe there are two fathers, or the father is incarcerated (I have
worked in urban and rural areas, this may not hold true in areas of more
affluent SES.) Male paraprofessionals would be a great boon to the boys and
girls in our schools who need a positive male role model in their lives.
worked as a teacher’s aide for five years in a junior high school. I have been
a substitute teacher in many schools. I have student taught and now I have my
own classroom. I have worked in pre-school, elementary, junior high and high
school. I have conducted observations and volunteered. To date I am the only
male teacher’s aide/paraprofessional I have ever met.
need to see men in supportive roles. Children need to see responsible, caring,
affectionate, men working in such an environment. I have no explanation as to
why there are so few men (I have conjecture), but I believe it would be of
great benefit to the students and to teachers if more men filled some of those
noted that schools should be more considerate of making matches between first-year
teachers and paraprofessionals. I would take this a step further and suggest
that schools ought to be more considerate of making matches period. Again, Appl
points to professional preparation and philosophical compatibility between
teacher and paraprofessional as significantly important (and I agree). I want
to see that taken a step further.
In my opinion, it is not
productive to place two or more adults in a room and ask them to “mesh’’ if
their differences are so vast that meshing is impossible and yet that is
exactly what can/does happen given bumping rules that are in place in many
unions. It is, again, not productive to ask a student to put up with an adult
all day long when the adult has no genuine interest in being around the
students or in the room and is there only because they had to be in order to
have a job.
Teachers ought to have some
say-so over who is in their classroom. I realize I am asking a lot, but the
fact is, not every personality is a match. Furthermore, it does not do well to
have personality tension around the students in our classrooms. The current
rules governing how paraprofessionals are placed (or retained) are, at best,
antiquated and at worst, detrimental.
It serves no one’s interest for
unqualified people to be in rooms just because the union rules say they can be.
Furthermore, I strongly believe that the adults writing the contracts need to
recognize this and come up with an alternative way of dealing with potential
budget cuts and future staff reductions instead of allowing bumping (or
riffing) as it is currently conceived. Allowing for consistency of staff in
special education classrooms ought to be paramount and at the forefront of
contract negotiations and, frankly, common sense.
Edelman, Broer, & Doyle, (2001) asked significant and penetrating
questions concerning the work of paraprofessionals with students who have
disabilities. I found this one most challenging: “Does it make sense to have the least qualified
employee primarily responsible for students with the most complex challenges to
learning?” (See also Giangreco, Edelman,
Broer, 2001). Well, what do you think? And if you answer ‘no,’ then what are
you prepared to do to see that changes take place? I believe very strongly that
unqualified adults should not be working with children whose gifts and
abilities they do not understand, whose personalities are an ill fit for such an
environment. On the other hand, I also happen to believe that things can and
I know another paraprofessional who showed up
at the school every day—first. Of the three paraprofessionals who were in the
room, she was always the last to leave—well after her contract stipulated that
she could leave. She made certain the work bins were ready for the next day,
she made certain that the work we did that day was put back in its appropriate
place. She took direction well. She listened and she communicated. And every
day, she was there: on time, prepared for the grief she would undoubtedly take
from one of our students, and with an “I won’t quit” attitude. She was pure
gold—dedicated to the students first, loyal to the classroom teacher, and
faithful to her job—and worth far more to the classroom teacher than the teacher
And the best part? She knew enough to put
shoes on a student who had taken them off on the bus ride. This is the
paraprofessional I want in my room—every day.
For further reference, see The Development and Field Test of an Employment Interview Instrument
for School paraprofessionals, Dillon
& Ebmeier, 2006.*
*The date might be wrong, my copy is cut-off and I had
trouble locating another copy online.