Paraprofessionals – The Backbone of the Classroom

I could just as easily call this post my ode to the paraprofessional. When I made the decision to seriously pursue a career in education, I had no idea where to start. I knew that I had to go back to school in order to get my teaching license, but beyond that I had no clue what I was getting into. My first thoughts were to get a position at a school so that I could get some first hand knowledge of what goes on in a school. To be honest, I wanted to know what teaching was really like. I got hired as a substitute teacher and I loved it. Never mind that time a student cut his hair with scissors (LOL!) I knew that I wanted to be a teacher. After one year of subbing, I was hired as what was referred to then as a teacher’s aide. I had no idea what that meant! I just knew I had a full time position in education with medical benefits. I wasn’t the teacher so it shouldn’t be that difficult, right?!

What is a paraprofessional?
Paraprofessionals generally assist teachers in the classroom, supervise students inside and outside of the classroom, provide administrative support in the classroom.

Anyone who is or has been a paraprofessional before knows how difficult the job can be. Whether you are assigned to work one on one with one student, working in a general education classroom or assisting in a resource classroom, the responsibilities of a paraprofessional can be demanding. This is not to deter anyone looking to for a position as a para. It is definitely a very fulfilling position. Having a well trained and capable para by your side in the classroom can be the saving grace for a teacher. They can be the extra set of eyes and ears for the teacher. Sometimes able to stop issues between students getting out of hand before the teacher is even aware of it.

Paraprofessionals are helpful in the classroom

So what does a paraprofessional do exactly?

  1. Support students in the classroom: A para may work with one or more students depending on the needs. This may entail providing accommodations like scribing for a student or making sure students have all their materials for class.
  2. Support students outside of the classroom: A para may accompany students to their special area classes like physical education, music, art, etc. Depending on the level of need, they may also go on field trips as well to monitor behavior.
  3. Collect data: Para may need to monitor student behavior using a checklist or spreadsheet of some kind that needs to be reported back to an intervention specialist or teacher.
  4. Classroom administrative tasks: You may be called upon to make copies or correct student work.
  5. Assist students with class work: A para may work with small groups or even one student to assist them with class assignments. I’m always reminding people that this means reminding the students of strategies that they can use and not just giving the answers.
Paraprofessionals support students inside and outside the classroom

What are some qualities that are important in a paraprofessional?

  • Patience: You are dealing with children, some that are dealing with their own struggles which extra care and attention.
  • Ability to multi-task
  • Basic reading and math skills
  • Empathy
  • Kindness
  • Understanding
  • Assertiveness

Bottom line, paraprofessionals are the backbone of the classroom no matter the setting. It is important that students see the teacher treat the paraprofessional with respect. In my classroom, I always refer to any paraprofessional as teacher. My students know that they should give the same level respect that they give to me to the paraprofessionals in the room. If you get the opportunity to work with a paraprofessional, please embrace it! It can change your teaching and add to the feeling of community in your classroom.

I would love to hear your experiences, drop a comment below!