20 Jan


They are sometimes called paraprofessionals, teacher aids, assistants, support therapists, support staff, one-to-ones…they go by many different names.  But they are important to any special education classroom.  I spent a year as a support therapist in a psychoed center; essentially a para.  They all are supposed to be working under a certified teacher who is responsible for training and supervising them.  Unfortunately, teachers are not trained to supervise other adults.  In fact, most would rather not do any supervising at all.  They want paras who already know what to do, and do it without complaint.


Paras want and like structure and explicit expectations.  They don’t want someone shadowing them, but they need direction.  They like autonomy but also like teachers to invest in their training and who give constructive feedback.  This does not happen very often, unfortunately.  Paras often are left in the dark to figure things out on their own, and only get feedback when things are not going well.  They are expected to be mini-teachers with less than half the pay and none of the training!


Until NCLB, most paras had little more than a high school education.  Some had some college and a precious few, like me, were college graduates.  Now, all paras are expected to have at least 2 years of college and/or pass a test.  Ruth is the only one I have who has not passed the test even though she has taken 4 or more times.  She has until June to pass.


As teachers, we do really welcome having another set of hands.  But teachers do need training as to how to supervise paras in order to do it in a professional way.  Parents of special needs students should realize that paras might have more to do with the day-to-day activities of their child than the teacher.  This is especially true when a student is included in a regular classroom with para support.  That para is probably getting little or no feedback from a special ed. teacher or the regular ed. teacher.  The para and the student often are secluded and excluded from what other students are doing.


I did some research on training paras, using the ones I had at the time as participants.  They all improved in their teaching with some training and they all enjoyed the training.  In addition, I had evidence that indicated that having a better trained para resulted in superior student achievement. I’ve since made it a regular part of training all paras coming through our program.  As far as I know, I’m the only one in the county doing such a thing.




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