The Paraprofessional in SPED Classrooms

If you are a teacher in a self-contained classroom with moderately to severely challenged children, you have a paraprofessional, maybe two, in your charge. Learning to maximize the benefits of having extra help is a challenge and there may be times you wish you could go it alone. It’s like rubbing your stomach and patting your head at the same time.

Group Of Elementary Age Children In Art Class With Teacher

One type of paraprofessional, or parapro, is the Personal Paraprofessional. In a student’s IEP, there is a stipulation that the child must have a personal paraprofessional dedicated to their care at all times. This care may include help toileting, feeding, managing medication schedules and other medical requirements. Some children are so medically involved that these tasks take up the entire day for the parapro; however, sometimes the needs are not quite so time consuming. Learning to manage any free time is key to a successful relationship with the personal paraprofessional. One tip: you can work with parents so the parapro is an aide to the teacher as well as the child. This expanded role may require a parapro with special qualifications, but that’s what you want. The paraprofessional is a tool used by the teacher to accomplish their responsibilities in the classroom.

A simple change in the wording of the IEP document makes a huge difference in what it says. What you don’t want is to have a parapro sitting in the back of the room reading Cosmopolitan or Car and Driver. It is your job as the classroom manager to make sure this person is working for you and the child, not herself.

No Child Left Behind (ESEA) federal legislation requires that educational paraprofessionals be “highly qualified.” Each state has certification regulations that define what this means. Qualifications for personal aides differ from those required by instructional aides. In general, a parapro must have:

(A)   completed at least two years of study at an institution of higher education

(B)   obtained an associate (or higher) degree

(C)   met a rigorous standard of quality they can demonstrate through a formal state or local academic assessment

Math Teacher Writing on Chalk Board

There are many training programs available for would-be parapros.

The best parapro is a highly trained professional who enters the classroom ready to work with a highly qualified teacher to provide unsurpassed assistance to all the children in the room. They know that at times their job will include tasks that are not in their job description. In fact, coming up with a good job description for a parapro is hard to do. Sometimes the job may include clerical duties that free the teacher so she can work directly with students.

A good parapro also helps the teacher maintain safety in the classroom. Many SPED classrooms come equipped with specialized physical therapy and medical equipment and devices. There may be medication to manage. Making sure that medication is properly stored in locked closets is a priority. This sounds obvious, but one unlocked cabinet can lead to theft of student medications by persons who believe they are narcotics. Don’t let this happen to you; it almost happened to me once when I turned my back for just one minute. You also don’t want someone to trip over the exercise ball in the corner that is there at the requirement of a student’s IEP. This did happen to me once. I had a bruise on my derriere to prove it.

I’ve been talking about self-contained classroom situations, but the real challenges arise for the parapro in the general ed classroom. A teacher is really a program manager.

If you are reading this and you want to become a parapro, there are many resources available to help you decide. The position of parapro is a responsibility you will want to take seriously; you can affect the life of a child in ways you can only imagine.

More:

Let me know how you’re doing. I’m here to answer questions you might have.


Grant Name: Foundation Grants

Funded By: Standard Charitable Foundation

Description: At The Standard, caring about people is a core value reflected in our commitment to the communities across the United States where our employees live and work. We provide corporate philanthropic support to nonprofit organizations working in the following four areas: Healthy Communities, Disability and Empowerment, Cultural Development, and Education and Advancement.

Program Areas: Adult Literacy, After-School, Arts, At-Risk/Character, Community Involvement/Volunteerism, Disabilities, Early Childhood, Family Services, General Education, Health/PE, Homeless, Math, Reading, Safe/Drug-Free Schools, Science/Environmental, Social Studies, Special Education, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math)

Eligibility:  Public School, Other

Proposal Deadline:  Ongoing

Average Amount: $5,000.00 – $25,000.00

Address: Public Affairs P12B 1100 SW 6th Ave Portland OR 97204

Telephone: 971-321-3162

Website: Standard Charitable Foundation

Availability: All States

Non-Violent Crisis Intervention

by Neva Fenno, M.S.Ed., MLIS

ABC learningI was reviewing some articles about special education service delivery and came across a list of current issues that are on the minds of SPED teachers and leaders. One of them was:

How should children with disabilities be disciplined when they pose a threat to school staff and to other students?

Teaching is an isolating activity; at least it certainly seems so at times. Between the bells, you are in a room with 15 students who are diverse in many ways. They have different intellectual abilities, some have physical disabilities that need special attention and some, if not most, have behavioral issues that affect the way your classroom is managed on a day-to-day basis. This behavior piece has always been my greatest challenge. What is the balance between discipline for a single incident of misbehavior and a consistent plan or approach for managing difficult behaviors among all of your challenging students?

Obviously, the latter is what you aim for. Once you have a consistent plan in place and everyone knows the rules, shouldn’t things fall into place and discipline become easier? It certainly can become easier, but there are always incidents of behavior that defy your classroom routine. Some students bring pain and emotional stress into your classroom that you cannot even imagine. The stress is like an overfilled balloon; it eventually needs to be released, and you are the only thing keeping the explosion from hurting that student or others in your care.

SPED teachers receive some specialized training in defusing tensions, but this never seems enough when a child explodes. When the explosion becomes a fight between two students, the instinct is to jump in and pull them apart. We know from our training, though, that this is the wrong thing to do. You could be injured, thus leaving no one in charge, and further injuries can happen. The procedure is always to get assistance. I remember when classrooms had no phones and we had no idea what a cell phone was.

teacher timeA few years ago, we brought in a crisis intervention team to provide training for our teachers in handling just such events. We used a company called CPI; they sent a team to our district and managed a four-day seminar in non-violent crisis intervention including restraint training: how to touch or otherwise handle a student in crisis who needs to be restrained so he doesn’t hurt himself or others. It was one of the best investments we’ve made for our staff. It was so effective that we’ve expanded the training to our entire staff on a voluntary basis. We may even make it mandatory. One of the great things they provided was to give extra training to some of our own teachers in a teach-the-teacher model so we could do our own training after they left. We used a combination of city and grant funds (IDEA federal funds) to transport, house and pay the team for their efforts.

During the training, the word respect kept popping up, and it’s an important element in the training. If all parties are respected during an episode that requires physical restraint, the procedure is easier and certainly much safer. The word respect seems to calm people down somehow. Emotions can run high, especially among children who have few resources to manage them. Once the initial incident is defused and the child is returned to the classroom, teachers can work together to try to find out why it happened in the first place. It may be necessary to bring the parents in to see if there’s something in the environment at home that is causing problems. When the whole family is involved, problem solving can proceed more effectively.

Obviously, this is a greatly simplified description of how a school district can approach behavior management programs.

Some resources for finding solutions:

Let me know how your school or district manages behavior.


Grant Name: Ross Foundation Educational Grants

Funded By: The Dorothea Haus Ross Foundation

Description:  Giving on a national basis to advance the moral, mental, and physical well-being of children of all races and creeds; to aid and assist in providing for the basic needs of food, shelter, and education of such children by whatever means and methods necessary or advisable; to prevent by medical research or otherwise the mental and physical handicaps of children. Funding also provided for the research of pediatric diseases.

Program Areas: Disabilities, Early Childhood, General Education, Health/PE, Special Education

Eligibility: Private School, Faith-based, Other

Proposal Deadline: Ongoing

Annual Total Amount: $400,000.00 – $560,000.00

Average Amount: $1,000.000 – $15,000.00

Address: 1036 Monroe Avenue, Rochester, NY 14620

Telephone: 585-473-6006

Email: info@dhrossfoundation.org

Website: The Dorothea Haus Ross Foundation

Availability: All States