Social and Cultural Foundations of American Education/Staffing Practices/Paraprofessionals

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What are the roles of paraprofessionals?

Paraprofessionals, sometimes called teachers' aides, are important to the educational system. From my experience, they are paramount in all classes, especially special education classes. I had the opportunity to volunteer at a preschool where I worked with paraprofessionals, teachers, and students. I decided to spend my time volunteering in a special needs classroom where there were 8 students, 2 paraprofessionals, and 1 teacher. All of the students needed and deserved special attention because they had special needs ranging from ADHD to autism. The paraprofessionals’ presence provided the extra attention that was needed. Without them in the classroom, the students would have been extremely hard to manage.

Paraprofessionals Defined[edit]

According to about.com, a paraprofessional is a special education worker who is not licensed to teach, but performs many duties both individually with the students and organizationally in the classroom (about.com). Paraprofessionals have been around for over 50 years. Throughout the years, they have performed simple tasks such as monitoring the lunchroom and monitoring playground time. Over the years, their duties have evolved. Para’s are now involved with instructing small groups in classrooms, helping the teacher modify lesson plans to meet the needs of individual students, and under the direction of the teacher, administer assessment activities to the students (Bartholomay 2001).

Paraprofessionals in Special Education Classes[edit]

Paraprofessionals work specifically with general education students until they reach first grade. There after, they mainly work with special education students (Goodman 2007). In the special education classes, each student has an IEP, Individual Education Program (Baumel 2007). Children get assessed for an IEP if the parent feels that their child requires special education. A multidisciplinary team evaluates the child and writes up the IEP, which is reviewed every year. The parent is active in the process of creating the document. The IEP document presents the levels of educational performance the child should achieve and the goals they should accomplish in that year (Baumel 2007). I recently interview a Pre-K special education teacher. She shared with me the IEP goals for her students and how the paraprofessional helps with the documentation of the goals. There are seven areas where the students must perform in order to meet the goals: gross motor fine motor, expressive language, receptive language, social/personal, self-help, sensorimotor/preacademic. In the preschool setting, the teacher and paraprofessional carefully observe each student and document when they reach their goal. Here are some tasks that the paraprofessional and teacher look for.

  • Gross motor: student can kick a ball four to six feet.
  • Fine motor: student can cut a five inch circle with assistance from the paraprofessional.
  • Expressive language: student can name pictures of objects seen in books.
  • Receptive language: student can follow two-step commands involving sequence.
  • Social/personal: student can play group games, like hide-and-seek, without constant adult supervision.
  • Self-help: student can button up coat.
  • Sensorimotor/pre-academic: student can label all primary colors. (Goodman 2007)

Training/Educational requirements[edit]

The training for paraprofessionals is mainly on-the-job. In some studies, paraprofessionals find a need for more training besides the basic on-the-job training and workshops. Training the paraprofessional’s places more obligations for the teachers because they have to supervise and mentor the paraprofessionals along with teaching the students (Bartholomay 2001).

Due to the implementation of No Child Left Behind Act, the educational requirements for paraprofessionals have changed. Previously, the main requirements were high school diploma, some college education, and/or an associate’s degree (Goodman 2007). Those requirements still apply, but now paraprofessionals are required to take the ParaPro test. The test is an assessment of math skills, writing skills and reading skills for prospective practicing paraprofessionals (ETS 2007).

Relationship between Teacher and Paraprofessional[edit]

It is important for the teacher to establish a good relationship with the paraprofessional early on. In the beginning of the year, it is best for the teacher to explain the role that the paraprofessional will have in the classroom. One of the most important things that the teacher has to explain to the paraprofessional is the limitations that they have with the parents. The policies for parent and paraprofessional interactions may be different in each school system, so it is extremely important that they are aware. In some case, the parent may ask the paraprofessional about their child’s performance in class. The first reaction would be to tell the parent about the child since they observe the child’s performance every day. If the policy of the school is that only the teacher disposes the information, the teacher has to provide the paraprofessional with the correct language to redirect the parent to the teacher. A good thing that the teacher can do with the paraprofessional is to have a weekly meeting. At this time, they can address any concerns or issues that may be present in the classroom. If any problem ever occurs between the paraprofessional and the teacher, it is important to discuss the issues privately. In doing so, the teacher does not lessen the paraprofessional’s effectiveness in the classroom (Hauge 2006).

Are Paraprofessionals Unappreciated?[edit]

...some teachers do not know what to do with us in the classrooms; this should be taught at college level during methods class. For teachers and administrators that do not have this class, then it should be brought into the school system as workshops. We are all here for the kids and we need to learn together to be as productive as possible.

Some paraprofessionals in some school districts feel unappreciated. Since they do not have to obtain a bachelor’s or master’s degree, some administrators see them easy to replace. Some things have been done to make the paraprofessional’s feel appreciated. In Texas, the state legislature declared that the second Wednesday in May is Paraprofessional Recognition Day (Williams 2003). The recognition is important because paraprofessionals need to know that they are important to the educational system and that they are valued.

Conclusion[edit]

For over the past 50 years, paraprofessionals have been an important asset to the educational system. Now their position requires more responsibilities and extra qualifications. The most important aspect of the paraprofessional’s job is to develop a good relationship with the teacher. Once a good relationship is developed, the teacher and paraprofessional can work in harmony and provide the students with a comfortable and secure environment. It is also important that the teachers and administrators appreciate the work that the paraprofessional does. When appreciation and respect are there, it establishes trust between the teacher and paraprofessional.

Multiple Choice Questions[edit]

Click to reveal the answer.

A parent asks Mrs. Stephens, a paraprofessional, how her child is doing in class. Mrs. Stephens should...
A. Give a detailed report on the student to the parent.
B. Depending on the school's policy, redirect the parent's question to the teacher.
C. Ignore the parent's question.
D. Have the parent fill out a privacy form so they can discuss the information

B. Depending on the school's policy, redirect the parent's question to the teacher.

Ronald, a high school graduate, wants to become a paraprofessional. In order to do so, it is best that he...
A. Submit his SAT scores to the school he wants to work.
B. Take the PRAXIS I exam.
C. Apply for the job as soon as possible.
D. Take the ParaPro test and pursue an associate's degree.

D. Take the ParaPro test and pursue an associate's degree.

Mrs. Smith, who is a paraprofessional, received a gift from her co-worker for Paraprofessional Appreciation Day on the second Wednesday in May. What state does she live in?
A. Texas
B. Virginia
C. California
D. North Carolina

A. Texas

Mr. Roberts feels that his daughter needs to be placed in a special education class. She needs to be assessed and given a(n) ______?
A. DAC
B. SOL
C. IEP
D. SAT

C. IEP

Mr. Thomas, the teacher, ask Ms. Brown, the paraprofessional, to observe a group of students at recess. She noticed that one of the students is able to kick a ball five feet. Which goal has the student met?
A. Social/Personal
B. Fine motor
C. Gross motor
D. Self-help

C. Gross motor

Essay Question[edit]

Click to reveal sample responses.

Explain the positives and negatives of having a paraprofessional in the classroom.

There are many positives of having a paraprofessional in the classroom. Their presence reduces the student to teacher ratio in the class. The para can also do clerical tasks such as making copies for the teacher. When groups of students have to use the restroom, the para can monitor them. That allows class time not to be interrupted. Along with positives that occur when paras are present in the classroom, there are also negatives. If the relationship between teacher and paraprofessional is not a good one, they will not be as effective at instructing the students. Another negative is that it put extra responsibility on the teacher. The teacher has to teach the paraprofessional along with the students. But overall, the positives outweigh the negatives.


Having a paraprofessional in the classroom has a positive and negative side just like anything else in life. On the positive side of things, having a paraprofessional in the classroom may help the teacher manage the classroom better. For example, it can reduce the student to teacher ratio in the classroom so that a student or students that need extra attention may receive it. The paraprofessional may reinforce the rules of the classroom and discipline (for instance, taking a student to the principal’s office) while the teacher continues to teach the class without interruption. The paraprofessional may escort students to lunch, art, or PE, while the teacher sets up the classroom until the students arrive back. The paraprofessional may perform secretarial duties to help the teacher like stapling tests, grading papers, making copies, or writing homework on the chalkboard. All this things can help the teacher in a major way a take off a lot of stress the teacher already has. These are only a few of the positive aspects of having a paraprofessional in the classroom. There are certainly many more.On the negative side of things, the teacher may have a problem with training the paraprofessional on the job because the teacher may feel as though they have a heavy enough workload. Also the paraprofessional and the teacher may have different views and beliefs in classroom management, grading, discipline, etc. That may cause a lot of conflict. The paraprofessional may not follow the teacher’s or the school’s rules and cause the teacher to be in jeopardy of losing their job. There are many more negative aspects but these are the main ones. If the teacher and the paraprofessional communicate regularly and establish the way things are going to go in the beginning of the school year these negative aspects can be avoided. —Danielle Eagins

References[edit]

  • (2007). "Paraprofessionals".Retrieved September 17, 2007, from About.com.Website: http://specialchildren.about.com/od/specialeducation/g/parapro.htm
  • Bartholomay, T., Shin, J., Stahl, B.J., Wallace, T. (2001, summer). "Knowledge and skills for the Teacher Suppervising the Work of Paraprofessionals".Exceptional Children, 67.4, 520. Retrieved September 17, 2007, from Academic OneFile.Gale.Old Dominion University Library.
  • Baumel, J. (2007)"Individualized Education Program (IEP)An Overview" Retrieved September 22, 2007, from Schwablearning. Web site: http://www.schwablearning.org/articles.aspx?r=73
  • Educational Testing Service.(2007). "ParaPro Assessment". Retrieved September 19, 2007, from ETS. Website: http://ets.org/parapro/
  • Hauge, J.M. & Babkie, A.(2006, September). "Develop collaborative special educator-paraprofessional terms: one para's view." Interventions in School & Clinic, 42.1, 51(3).Retrieved September 18, from Academic OneFile.Gale.Old Dominion University Library.
  • Interview. Goodman, K. "Roles of Paraprofessionals", Retrieved September 21, 2007. from Pre-K Special Ed Teacher.
  • Williams, C. (2003). "Texas Para Recognition Day" Retrieved September 19, 2007, from National Resource Center for Paraprofesionals Web site: http://www.nrcpara.org/forum/texas-para-recognition-day.