Monday, January 16, 2012

Teachers and Paraprofessionals Working Together

As a classroom teacher, I appreciate and depend on the paraprofessionals assigned to my room. In my subject area (Computer Sciences), it is very difficult to find a paraprofessional that is both comfortable with the computer and the content. When I first started teaching, I did not like having a paraprofessional in the room because I would often have to stop and show the paraprofessional how to do things on the computer that my digital native students were already comfortable doing. If there was an error message, the paraprofessional would often shut down much like students did in that situation. It felt like the paraprofessional was creating more work at times. It was frustrating.

Stopping to help a paraprofessional so that they could in turn help the student they were assigned in the room to help, often took me away from the other students that needed scaffolding or help with technical aspects that were creating road blocks. In the article I read for this reflection, I agree with the premise that "[t]eachers and paraprofessionals work together in providing the best learning environment for students with disabilities, which also benefits the rest of the students."("What Is a Paraprofessional Role to a Teacher? |," n.d.) When I had to stop to help the paraprofessional who lacked technical or computer skills, I was not able to live up to my half of that premise.

About 4 years ago I was assigned a paraprofessional that was comfortable at a computer, had tremendous technical skills and took copious notes. She also asked precise questions regarding the software and came in before and after school (unpaid time for her) to get clarification on using the software and learn the project steps before the student had to do that project. I was completely impressed by her dedication and willingness to learn new things in order to give her students full attention and support during class time.

I found out later that she also has a degree in graphic design, which accounted for her computer skills. I realized that she had the assets that my particular subject required from a paraprofessional and had a meeting with the SPED director, explaining the difference between previous experiences and my experiences with this particular para. We both agreed that if a para was required in my classroom, she would be the para given the assignment, and she has been the only para in my room for the last 4 years.

Our professional relationship has grown over this time. I am able to share lesson plans with her and she is often approached by the regular education students when I am tied up elsewhere (usually troubleshooting). Because she continues with me year after year, she has archives of notes she has taken, her own photocopies of worksheets and critical pages from the textbook. She has also become an expert on the software we use in class.

Last week my para was out because of an ill child. In the class she is assigned to, she centers her attention around 3 IEP students, all very high need. With her out, my attention was focused more in that area of the classroom. I was sitting with her highest need student. I was concerned that maybe the para was doing more for him then usual (because of his needs) and that he wasn't learning to do it on his own. I used her absence to assess how much he had learned. To my surprise (and my relief) he knew how to do everything I asked him to do without help. He complained about his para being out through the whole process but he was able to use the software to root his folder, insert pictures, insert text, create webpages, etc. Anything I asked him, he could do. His para was his primary instructor because his curriculum pace was altered, but he was doing better and working more independently then some of my regular ed kids were. I was very proud of him, and of her, for meeting the competencies of the course.

I would not have been able to help him do this without the para. I would not have been able to give him the complete attention that his disabilities required to keep him focused the way she did. His para and I communicated daily about where he was at and where he needed to be. She asked terrific questions. I was able to share lesson plans with her in advance and we made adjustments on those plans together when needed. We really do have to work as a team because of the numerous factors that are going on in my classroom versus what goes on in a Math classroom or English classroom.

I feel the benefit of having a para in the room every day. I find it more beneficial to have a para with a technology background. I have often reflected on how beneficial it would be if para's came in with a background in particular subjects (like teachers do) and can be assigned to that department. If not, paras who are willing to get training in that area. My para came in with a technology background but not a programming or web design background, but that didn't stop her from coming in and getting training from me. I would have done that for any para that asked, but she was the first.

Something I learned from working with paras is that it is important to give a "heads up", or preview, of what will be taught. A week in advance seems to work best so questions can be cleared up before we get to that class time. If the para is as prepared as the teacher before class time, everyone in the room benefits.

Read more: What Is a Paraprofessional Role to a Teacher? |

Works Cited
J. (n.d.). What Is a Paraprofessional Role to a Teacher? | Retrieved 2012, from