Para-educators, Para-Professionals, Paras, Instructional Aides, Teacher Associates. These people may have different titles but they all mean the same thing,…THEY ARE IMPORTANT!
Our classrooms, especially our special education classrooms, could completely fall apart without our para-educators (paras). I have the utmost respect for every para I have ever worked with. Special education is definitely a team effort and I could not have gone through all these years without the help.
However, as a special education teacher, it can be difficult to manage so much data collection, IEPS, staff personalities, and staff experience levels in one classroom.
For more on Special Education Data Collection click HERE.
For more on Understanding IEPs click HERE.
Understanding the Levels of Para Experience
Paras may come with several different levels of experience. If you are new to a school or expecting new staff this year, you never know what type of paras you will work with.
This year, you may be working with:
The Inexperienced Para:
This is the para that may not have any experience working in a classroom with kids (or any job experience). They need you! The teacher needs to provide a very detailed list of every single thing they need them to do. The paras will not stray from the list. They will do no more and no less than what you have provided them on that list. You will see, they want to do everything the right way. They want to keep you happy.
The More Experienced Para:
This para has worked in a few classrooms before and knows the gist of the job. Their work may not be perfect but they complete tasks the way that they were originally trained to do it. It is possible to retrain the para on how you like things to be completed. However if the teacher doesn’t tell the paras what they want right away, the paras are likely to fall back into their old habits. This may or may not be a good thing.
The Experienced Para:
For most teachers, this type of para is the easiest to work with. These paras get it! They understand the job. They understand that each teacher does things a certain way so they pick up on your style. These paras do their jobs and improvise when things do not go according to plan. They have some freedom but ultimately seek your approval for priority matters. It is possible they understand emergencies happen and are willing to help out in any way they can. The overall quality of their work is great and they are delightful to work with.
The Over-Experienced Para:
For some, this type of para can often be the most difficult type of para to work with. This is the para that is set in their ways. They have been in the classroom doing this job longer than you have been teaching. They feel the way they do things is the best and only way to do things because they have had so much experience. These paras are hesitant to change and rarely do anything outside their job descriptions. Be prepared, these paras may have a better relationship with the kids than you do at first! It can be great to rely on these paras for certain things but be sure to remember that it is your classroom, not theirs.
5 Steps to Prepare a Para for a Successful Year in the Classroom with YOU!
Regardless of which type of para you work with, you want to ensure that your team is ready to fly with you this year. We want success for our students. Success only works when your team is prepared. Follow these steps to ensure your team is prepared and successful this year.
#1. Give them Training.
We may have been frustrated with a para or two in the past because of how they did something or what they did. But how can we stay mad at them when the paras have never been provided training from you or, in some cases, never been trained at all? It is important to find out from your district what the training policy is for paras. If you don’t have one, the teacher should provide a small training on expectations. I created a light-humorous training to give my staff when I go to a new school. Check it out HERE – Para Professional PD.
#2. Learn about them and Use their Strengths.
In any circumstance it can be easier to focus lots of energy into the negative versus the positive. No one is perfect! People make mistakes. It is the teacher’s job to take the time to learn about their paras and figure out where they could be best utilized. Find your paras strength and let them shine. For example, if your para is a great writer and cringes at the sight of math, try to give them a schedule that involves lots of writing support and less math support.
#3. Keep them Happy.
Sharing a work space with so many people may cause tension at some point. Be mindful and respect the fact that your paras do not have a desk, an office, or a place they can go to for a minute to regroup. Give them a space in the classroom where they can feel like they have a home in the room. This can be a cabinet or drawer for their stuff. This can be a time of day that they can use your desk and chair to sit in for 5 minutes. If people are happy at their job, they are more productive.
#4. Give them Tools, Feedback, and Communicate.
In the regular hustle and bustle of everyday life, it can be easy for a teacher to begin to “assume”. (We all know what happens if a person assumes!) We assume that the para knows everything that the teacher knows. Then, we assume they can start to pick things up and just know how to do it. This makes us assume our paras can handle students that are more challenging.
It is important to give immediate feedback to your staff. Let them know that they may or may not be doing things correctly. Let them know why you want things completed a certain way. Give your paras an open line of communication with you. Nothing is worse than a boss that you can’t talk to! Give them behavior incentives that they can easily implement with the kids like Positive Behavior Punch cards or Positive Behavior Intervention Support tools. Provide the paras the tools to be powerful in your classroom.
#5. Don’t Forget to Appreciate them.
Hands down, this is the most important step of all! It’s human nature to want to feel needed, useful, and appreciated. Give these feelings to your paras! You know what your paras need to feel appreciated. I have purchased coffee, donuts, breakfast, and lunch. I’ve written them “thank you” notes at random times. A couple times, I’ve even given my paras coupons for a FREE – “trade places with me for one period during the day” in case they were having a tough day. Be creative. Show them you care!
Don’t forget how important your paras are! We love PARAS!! Prepare the Paras so they have all the tools to be successful with you this year!