The Effective Use of Our Para Educators

16 Mar

I write about paras probably more than any other teacher blogger because they are such an integral part of what I do. I’m supervising 3 right now, but have been in charge of supervising and training as many as 7 at one time. I’ve also done a fair amount of research on para issues, as well as have a background as a para at one time.



In our weekly department meeting, teachers were admonished that they needed to be using their paras more effectively. The department head said that they should not be sitting at their desks, reading books or doing some other personal work, but should be used to their full potential.


I began to wonder how that translated into the minds of most teachers. I have heard more than one teacher complain about the para being somewhat less than capable and some have even tried to get out of having paras in the first place because they think it is like simply having another student. Math and science teachers seem to complain the loudest, at least from the small experiences I’ve had with them.


There are two issues that come to mind when I think about using paras effectively. One is how the para is trained. I’ve commented before how I have met precious few (like NONE) that has bothered training their paras. They treat them as incompetent underlings and then wonder why they are not getting anything out of them. Or teachers fail to convey expectations, and then wonder why these other adults are not performing up to par.


The second issue is also about training, but I’m thinking about the training of the teacher. There are currently no classes that I’ve ever encountered at the university level that trains special educators on the training, supervision and evaluation of paraprofessionals. In fact, I’ve never met a teacher who was trained on what to do with those other adults in their classrooms. In contrast, our county offers a class twice a year every year entitled The Role of the Paraprofessional. This class is required for every person hired as a para in our district. Unfortunately, this class is taught by and for those in regular education, so the special ed. paras are often given material and content ill-suited to their needs. But I’m wondering about a class for teachers about the role of the para.


I’m thinking about possibly trying to teach an in-county workshop on the subject. I’m thinking it should include sections on training, supervision and evaluation. But what other specific things might be covered?



Thanks to the NRCP for throwing me a bone!   The least I could do was post something slightly more up-to-date.



6 Responses to “The Effective Use of Our Para Educators”

  1. Karla March 17, 2007 at 3:15 pm #

    thank you for writing about paras! I was beginning to wonder if anybody out there cared!
    I have been employed as a para for our school district for three years and although I dearly love the children and helping them learn, I have come home in tears for the majority of the time. I am frustrated because I feel worthless. I am ignored by the teacher in the classroom. I have been given a Sp Ed student to work with 1:1.
    She is a delight, but she has trouble communicating, so many times I am her voice. She has considerable hearing loss, so, besides maintaining her equiptment, I am her eyes. She requires glasses and has some degree of MR, so, She needs my attention. But, as much as I love to help her and work with her individually, the classroom situation becomes tough for both of us. For me, because I feel ignored and devalued, for her because she is misunderstood and viewed as incapable. She is certainly not incapable though. And much as I try to prevent problems, my own discomfort with this situation is wearing me down.
    I actually hold a current teaching certificate, have continued to attend graduate courses whenever I can, and have even taught myself ASL just so I could do my job better. I know it is difficult to work with some personalities, and we aren’t really very compatible. But, I have truly not tried in any way to step on her toes. I am so frustrated. Can you give me some advice, Please?

  2. Andrew March 18, 2007 at 8:27 am #

    Paras can be the biggest saving graces to many students. Unfortunately, they rarely are valued by the school system and do not receive training. Four years ago, we were told (the behavior analysts in our district) that we were going to get paras to serve as our assistants to help collect data and run plans. It has been an incredible experience. The good thing was we had no background so we did the following: 1) agreed we would treat them like colleagues; 2) use them in important capacities but not to make up for school or staff shortages (which was the intent of the position); 3) offer them regular training; 4) offer them as much chance for autonomy (i.e., making their own schedules unless we were aware of an important meeting or case, offer them chances to be in meetings if they’d like, etc.). Our paras have done such a good job (their title is “behavior technician”) that the county might start going away from “teaching assistant” and “PCA” to hiring all “behavior technicians”. Knowledge is power. If you view things as training issues and lack of knowledge, all it takes is a little instruction, role modeling and rehearsal and the job of paras can be more rewarding and productive. Thanks for letting me pontificate.

    As for advice, I have seen, this year in fact, a para providing all the instruction to a student with autism. This is a violation of the child’s IEP and typically district job descriptions. I do think people should follow chain of command so perhaps address this with the teacher and principal and then go from there. Good luck. You sound quite committed.


  3. Karla March 18, 2007 at 8:10 pm #

    Thanks Andrew for your words of wisdom. If I am the one who “provides all the instruction” am I in legal trouble? I realize a para isn’t supposed to “design curriculum” but, if it its not offered to my student and I do it because no one else is, …does that put me in violation? I’m thinking I may need some legal counsel, huh?

    I sure wish our school would’ve done the same. I could only dream of being treated as a colleague! We’re more like Dick’s version, “incompetent underlings”. Pretty sad really, that so many teachers have insecurities that make them afraid to let someone else look good in their classrooms.

  4. Dick Dalton March 19, 2007 at 10:36 am #

    Thanks for stopping by, Karla, and Andrew for the input. I think using paras to help with taking behavioral data and impliment interventions is a fine use of them as long as they are properly trained and supervised.

    Karla, in your case you are not being properly taken care of in either the training or supervision aspect. You are not in violation of the IEP so much as the teacher who is supposed to be supervising you. In fact, that teacher is in violation of the law and his/her professional code of ethics. You may have to try to solicit some direction and feedback. My own paras have learned to do this effectively, but that’s because I sort of taught them to do it. They’ll ask me how they are doing or what I might suggest they do with students they work with.

    A former para of mine ran into this at another school and she was able to still make a go of desigining programs and taking data solely from what I had taught her when she was with me. In the absence of a teacher to help you, you may consider looking for workshops and conferences on autism, MR or students with special needs in order to meet your own training needs. See if your special education director will pay for these workshops and provide a substitute for this training. 1:1 paras frequently end up at the very bottom of the food chain, and often have to be the most resourceful as far as getting knowledge and support to meet the needs of the unique learners they are working with.

    I’ll recommendthe book “Pivotal Response Training” by Robert Koegel for some strategies and tips that might be used by parents, teachers and paras for students with autism and other developmental delays. There is a section in there about training paraprofessionals and enough behavioral strategies to make Andrew happy;-)


  5. Karla March 19, 2007 at 7:44 pm #

    Dick, Thank you for answering! Bottom of the food chain I am, that’s for sure. I get the last laugh tho, because we have para negotiations coming up with our school board and they asked me to represent. Tee-Hee. I was waiting for someone to hear my side of the picture. I work so hard and my take home pay is pitiful…a couple of coins and single dollar bills, if you get the picture.
    I’m definitely asking for the teacher training idea! Its a gem.
    My next question is;
    What are some reasonable requests after they tell me there’s no money? Do you think they’d buy my winter mittens to replace the ones I keep giving away to all the kids who come without any on their cold little fingers everyday? Or, pay for the vitamins I need to take just to stay somewhat healthy during the never-ending flu season? Our school decided the teachers didn’t need to handle any recesses anymore. Gee, how can they honestly answer every parent’s “How does Johnny get along with the rest of the kids?”
    mittens and vitamins are beyond my para wages.
    Seriously, any input would be appreciated, and I’ll be sure to use the strategies you suggest…It’s perfect. Still gives her the last word, and draws the feedback right out of her (something she struggles with).
    Thanks again, love your site, wish I’d found it sooner

  6. Corey April 2, 2007 at 8:10 pm #

    Dick, I am currently enrolled in a college class which is entitled The Paraeducator as a member of the educational team. I aspire to become a special education teacher in the near future and this class has just been develpoed by Erie Community College in Western New York. I find your topics interesting and I often refer to your web page in my class. I also believe this world of Paraeducators needs to be a focus of any student going to school to become a teacher. Because of NCLB we will be seeing more and more paras in our schools. I want to thank you for your work in getting the word out about the need for properly training not only our paraeducators but mostly our teachers.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: