Paraeducators: Fact or Fiction?

As policy and procedures have evolved over the years within education, the role of teachers and paraprofessionals has also changed.  Managing the work of paraprofessionals has become a more common component of effectively run classrooms.  Paraeducators who were once responsible for clerical duties to support teachers and administrators by preparing materials, taking attendance, and monitoring recess now have new roles and responsibilities.  Today, paraeducators are members of the instructional team, responsible for providing more and different types of support to students, yet they are often the least trained for this job.

Could you clearly define what tasks paraeducators are responsible for in your school?

Is there collaboration between teachers and paraeducators in your school? Does school leadership support the importance of teacher and paraeducator relationships?

Continue reading to learn more about the role of paraeducators in inclusive schools.

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FICTION: PARAEDUCATORS SERVE AS THE PRIMARY SCHOOL-TO-HOME COMMUNICATION LINKAGE.

Often, paraeducators have more contact with the parents of students with severe disabilities and are viewed as an integral part of a student’s educational team. As the instructional case manager, teachers are ultimately the primary person responsible for providing educational information to parents and answering questions about student academic performance. Paraeducators should not make independent decisions about a student’s educational programming but rather defer to the teacher of record.

FICTION: PARAEDUCATOR SERVICES ARE LIMITED TO ONE STUDENT AT A TIME.

In rare cases, paraeducators could be assigned as 1:1 support. Paras are able and should support all students, small groups of students, or a few students depending upon the instructional lesson plan, teacher design/request, and individual student needs.

FACT: A PARAEDUCATOR’S ROLE IS TO WORK WITH ALL STUDENTS.

In rare cases, paraeducators could be assigned as 1:1 support. Paras are able and should support all students, small groups of students, or a few students depending upon the instructional lesson plan, teacher design/request, and individual student needs.

FICTION: A PARAEDUCATOR’S ROLE IS TO PROVIDE AT LEAST ONE HOUR OF OFFICE SUPPORT FOR THE PRINCIPAL WEEKLY.

Clerical tasks may be assigned to paraeducators; however, this is not the primary role and should never be the primary function of this position.

FICTION: PARAEDUCATORS CAN SERVE AS SUBSTITUTE TEACHERS IN AN EMERGENCY SITUATION.

Teacher shortages have created the need to use all school personnel, however paraeducator positions are created for the purpose of student supports that cannot be denied.  It is also important to remember that often paraeducator pay is less than that of a substitute teacher therefore compensation is a factor for consideration.

FACT: INITIAL INSTRUCTION IS NOT PROVIDED BY A PARAEDUCATOR.

Teachers are responsible for the overall instructional planning, first-time instruction, collaboration with supporting persons, and supervision of the paraeducator.

FACT: TEACHERS AND PARAEDUCATORS NEED TO PLAN TOGETHER TO BE EFFECTIVE.

Collaborative planning promotes collegial relationships, provides clarity of roles and responsibilities, increases knowledge and understanding, and also improves the efficiency and effectiveness of students’ instructional time. Academic learning time can be enhanced when the teacher and Paraeducator understand how to provide the instruction.

FICTION: PARAEDUCATORS DO NOT REQUIRE PROFESSIONAL GROWTH OPPORTUNITIES TO SERVE EFFECTIVELY.

Professional development is crucial for growth in any profession. Paraeducators are often not provided with sufficient training in supporting diverse learners, relationship skills, behavior supports, instructional strategies, and/or policies and procedures. As we see teacher shortages on the rise, why not grow your own?

FICTION: PARAEDUCATORS MUST BE AN EXPERT IN A CONTENT AREA TO SUPPORT STUDENTS.

Paraeducators can feel inferior to their supervising teacher and may not feel comfortable with a subject area.  However, efforts given to collaboration, respectful relationships, clear directions with reflective feedback, and alignment of responsibilities to a paraeducator’s strengths can foster effective support regardless of the subject matter.

FACT: STUDENT SUCCESS IS THE RESPONSIBILITY OF BOTH THE TEACHER AND THE PARAEDUCATOR.

Paraeducators work alongside teachers to support students within the classroom. While the supervising teacher has the ultimate responsibility for the learning environment, both the teacher and the Paraeducator are responsible for the learning and well-being of all students.

FACT: RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN THE STUDENT AND THE PARAEDUCATOR SHOULD PROMOTE STUDENT INDEPENDENCE.

Paraeducator support can have a positive impact on student success except when student independence is not enhanced. Paraeducators should not function as the “student” for completing work or “just getting things done.” Paraeducators are intended to be a support, not a student replacement. Promoting student ownership of learning and greater independence will foster greater student success and self-confidence.

FICTION: PARAEDUCATORS CAN SHARE STUDENT INFORMATION WITH OTHER FACULTY.

Paraeducators often work in the same community in which they live which can lend to situations or conversations about students with persons working in or outside of the school setting. Families expect and are guaranteed that student information will be kept confidential which is also the law in accordance with the Family  Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).

FACT: TEACHERS AND PARAEDUCATORS MODEL RESPECTFUL RELATIONSHIPS FOR STUDENTS AND STAFF.

All staff should demonstrate professional and ethical work behaviors. Teachers and paraeducators should demonstrate a respectful and congenial relationship. Recognizing that the teacher is the supervisor, concerns or questions about the teacher, students, parents, or other team members should be done directly with the supervisor and in dignified confidence. Both members should refrain from discriminatory or unethical practices.