Table of Contents
- Certification and Training
- Voices from the Field
Source: Wikipedia, (n.d.) Paraprofessional educator. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paraprofessional_educator
Paraprofessionals are widely employed in schools in the United States and Canada, and in some European countries.
In the United States these educators have over 30 titles, but a recent national trend has encouraged states to title these positions as “paraeducators” under their various job positions (example: Support Staff>Paraeducator>Special Education).
Paraprofessional educators are frequently used to help support student/s in special education settings. Paraprofessional educators in these roles work with students with a variety of disabilities, including learning disabilities, emotional disturbance, autism spectrum disorders, ADHD, schizophrenia, developmental disabilities, and communication disorders. Paraprofessional educators may work in special classrooms, resource rooms or serve as inclusion assistants who accompany individual students throughout their day. Paraprofessional educators in these roles may require specialized training in behavior management, de-escalation, personal-professional boundaries, and sometimes physical restraint.
Paraprofessional educators generally assist teachers in the classroom, supervise students outside of the classroom, or provide administrative support for teaching. Job duties range from filling teaching positions to supplementing regular classroom curriculum with additional enrichment activities for students. Other positions include classroom aides, special education aides, school library technical assistants, and tutors.
Some paraprofessionals work directly with students, in which case they may listen to students practice reading aloud, help students understand and complete their assignments, or assist students with special needs.
Many paraprofessionals are assigned to supervise groups of students who are eating, playing outside, or on field trips. They may be assigned to perform clerical work for a teacher, in which case they may grade assignments, type up records for attendance or grades, set up equipment, and help prepare materials for instruction, e.g., by making photocopies of worksheets.
Many teacher assistants work primarily or exclusively with students who have special educational needs. Their duties vary according to the needs of the student, and may include physical care for students who are unable to care for themselves (such as feeding, lifting, moving, or cleaning), behavioral management, or academic assistance.
Some paraprofessionals don’t work with the school directly, rather the school district, mental health agencies, early childhood programs or transitional life agencies after a student graduates. Paraprofessionals can work in other programs that the school district provide, such as school aged childcare and recess/ lunch duties. This links the paraprofessional to the students, but not the teacher or schools itself.
The role of the paraprofessional educator is constantly evolving. Today, more than ever, paraprofessionals are teaching lessons, working with small groups for remediation, leading extracurricular clubs/sports and are no longer simply the “teacher’s aide” of the past.
Requirements to become a paraprofessional vary widely, normally ranging from a high school diploma, G.E.D., two years of college education, or an associate degree. Some positions may require experience, particularly as an aide in an instructional role like in special education and in English as a Second Language instruction.
In the United States, the No Child Left Behind federal legislation requires that educational paraprofessionals be “highly qualified”. The definition of highly qualified is left to the individual states, as are the means for measuring qualification. The United States Department of Education has issued guidelines regarding paraprofessionals whose positions are funded under Title I of the federal legislation. According to the Department of Education, “Paraprofessionals who provide instructional support”, include those who:
- Provide one-on-one tutoring if such tutoring is scheduled at a time when a student would not otherwise receive instruction from a teacher,
- Assist with classroom management, such as by organizing instructional materials,
- Provide instructional assistance in a computer laboratory,
- Conduct parental involvement activities,
- Provide instructional support in a library or media center,
- Act as a translator, or
- Provide instructional support services under the direct supervision of a highly qualified teacher.
In 2015, The Every Student Succeeds Act was passed replacing No Child Left Behind. This gave more autonomy to the individual states and local school districts to make guidelines/standards that fit the needs of their particular demographics. It also created guidelines to provide greater voice and support to paraeducators citing the need to adequately train, support, evaluate and include in decision making forums.
Certification and Training
Some jurisdictions offer or require certification for some paraprofessionals. Others may require a contracted paraprofessional to pass an examination. Some require none of the above
A paraprofessional certificate is typically a certificate that an educator has obtained by passing an exam, enabling them to perform a task requiring extensive knowledge, but not requiring a college degree and a teaching license. Subject areas could include any areas of education such as a GED Teacher, Alternate School Teacher, ISS Teacher, After School Tutor, Home School Teacher, Credit Recovery Teacher, Continuing Education Teacher, and any Special Education area which could be but is not limited to CML, tutoring, and providing any needs to an individual student.
The training of paraprofessional educators varies widely by state and district. (Research your state standards to find out more about individual requirements) The Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) in collaboration with the National Resource Center for Paraeducator has validated some guidelines for use in training paraeducators to serve “individuals with exceptionalities” A link to these can be found here [link]. Professional development companies, such as 321insight.com and PD360 provide targeted training to enhance paraeducator competency.
Council for Exceptional Children Resources
Iona County ISD-ASD Team, (2007). Effectively Utilizing and Supporting Paraprofessionals. (working with students on the autism spectrum).
Parker, D. (n.d.) Supporting Paraprofessionals to Support Students with IEPs. , Association of Wisconsin School Administrators
Voices from the Field
I believe that any school district that is prepared for orientation of a Paraprofessional can effectively provide training and expectations for the job. Part of that obstacle is the unique needs and strengths in individual personalities of adults and students in the school environment.
Just like measuring goals and plans for teaching, Paras would also need goals and objectives for Professional Development. There are so many aspects to working in Special Education. A few have always stood out for me. Creating a weekly or monthly time committed to addressing ongoing concerns of a Para is good for moral, it is good for the growth of a Para as an employee, and it is a concrete time to give feedback from the Sped Teacher and the Classroom Teacher. I currently meet every two weeks with my supervisor 1:1, for about 15-20 minutes. This is new for us and I am excited for the time to collaborate for my student. Teachers may have different needs of a Para, depending on how the student is responding to the classroom. When a Para also receives measurable goals for PD, they can better gauge their own progress and keep their goals aligned to standards and the needs and IEP goals of the student.
I have worked in a behavioral program and another program for children with Autism. We do have a one-hour monthly meeting to review Professional Development topics and sometimes to vent! As a Para, we go through our day often without a minute to speak privately with a teacher or peer to get feedback or direction without a student with us. We have addressed many topics like Trauma Informed Schools, Social and Emotional Learning, behavior challenges, safety concerns for students and staff, and some very funny and sweet lines from the children. When all Paras went home last March due to Covid-19, we did an online Google class where we got a topic to read and questions to share after reading. It was a great way to exchange with peers from all over the district about how we have learned and addressed many aspects of our jobs and different approaches to different disabilities. I believe we are pretty successful in this area.
A standard I feel paraeducators are receiving adequate support is: PCCG.2.S3: Use knowledge of an individual’s strengths and interests to encourage engagement in varied school and community activities as determined by the instructional team. Over the last five years that I’ve worked as a paraeducator, identifying student interests and tying them into their work whenever possible or appropriate has always been a goal. Not only can this help keep students engaged in their work, but knowing their interests helps when building relationships. I have worked with various students with intensive behavioral needs over the last few years, and have learned that before anything else, getting to know your students is crucial to both their and your success. Three years ago, I worked with a child diagnosed with ODD and ADHD. One of her strengths was arts and crafts. Once a week in the library, there would be crafts left for students to do during the day. If she had completed her work and followed teacher expectations throughout the week, we would take twenty minutes to do crafts together. She looked forward to this time and this allowed us to connect and continue building our relationship.
Within our district, we include paraprofessionals in all professional development days so they learn the same content as the teachers. This is a great start. We also have monthly paraeducator meetings, however staff meetings with teachers are after hours and paraeducators are not expected to attend since they will not be paid for their time. This leaves a gap in the information the teachers receive versus what information paraprofessionals receive.
Training in the content areas is a great idea. One year, we offered training in math, not everyone’s favorite subject. We had a lot of para support in math classes, and the paras were telling us that they were not strong in the math skills themselves. We invited the adult education math teacher to come in for a series of lessons during the day and provided the paras this class time to go over math skills they were lacking. It was great. I wish we could do more of that, but as mentioned in other posts sometimes the bottom line is the budget and staffing availabilities.
Another way that special educators can support paraprofessionals effectively is by facilitating open lines of communication. Regular communication, like daily check-ins, can keep everyone focused and working towards the same goal. Knowing that a special educator is ready to enthusiastically support allows paraprofessionals to feel “safe” reaching out with questions or concerns. Also, reviewing students IEP’s with paraprofessionals is another way that special educators can support paraprofessionals. There can be professional language or procedures that a paraprofessional is not familiar with but are necessary for the paraprofessional to be aware of and include when working with a student. This information should be reviewed together, so that everyone working with a student can be effective and follow the IEP.
Where I work we have45 minutes to an hour everyday that the paras meet in teams to debrief how the day went, plan with the teacher and administrators next steps and prep for the next day(s). Because of students have such intense needs, we usually have a lot of one on one paras. For instance in the middle level group we have 5 students with 1:1 para support and two general paras provide support for three other students. . . sometimes that isn’t even enough support! Twice a month we have all staff meetings (right now remotely via telephone conference call.) I feel we do a great job with preparation Standard 1: Learner Development and Individual Learning Differences. We also do a great job standard 2: Learning Environments due to our daily debriefs and group work helping all our students. We also have lots of professional development workshops. Last year it was about IEP development etc. with the NH-DOE. We had about 8 workshops on it. This year we are working on learning LSCI philosophies and how the brain works with children with Trauma. This year we have about 12 workshops scheduled There are usually on early release days for an hour or sometimes after school. All paras have access to IEPs of the students in their class and are invited to participate in IEP meetings and conferences with parents. I also think we do a great job with collaboration, Standard 7.
As I am sure is common everywhere, the special educators are overwhelmed and overworked, and often do not have the time to spend meeting and training the paraeducators that work with them. I love the school where I work, but we really do not receive much in the way of training or professional development. A few times a year we are included in a full staff professional development day, but very little is set aside just for us. I think setting up some sort of mentor program, especially for new paras would be extremely helpful. I also feel that setting up a consistent meeting time for the special education team, once a month or once a quarter, would be invaluable.