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

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SPED Teacher Burnout: Is it Happening to You?

Teaching can be a lonely job. That sounds counter-intuitive, as others surround you all day. For the most part, though, you’re in your classroom alone as ruler of the roost. If you’re lucky, you may have an aide, but your aide may not be the helper you need. Managing aides can be a full-time job itself (I’ll cover that issue in another article). We don’t like to talk about burnout for fear that it makes us appear out of control.

male teacher helpAfter some months in the classroom with a class load that can exceed what the law recommends, you start to feel frustrated. You’ve reported that you are out of compliance with your numbers, but no one seems to listen. Your administrators acknowledge your problem, but “budgets,” or “it’s only temporary,” are the responses you get to repeated alarms.

You stay late every night, reviewing student work or staying abreast of IEPs and reports from team meetings. You are a dedicated professional, but there’s a nagging feeling that you’re not happy in your job. Maybe it is not so nagging—maybe it’s shrieking.

Every teacher feels frustrated from time to time. Special Ed teachers are often responsible for medical issues with their students too. This is a huge responsibility. The students we see in our classrooms seem to have more and more complex issues as the years go by. This is not your imagination; it’s true. As medical science becomes more sophisticated, more premature children are saved at birth to be placed in public school settings with myriads of health problems. You love your kids, and you know the kids are not the problem; it’s always the grownups, and you can also sometimes point the finger at yourself.

These are the first signs of burnout: nagging emotions and feelings, loss of sleep, nervous tension, snapping at family members or teachers and administrators in your school. You’ve tried to network within your school to muster up some support, but other teachers have their own issues to sort out.

Fortunately, there’s help at hand. If your symptoms have grown to include a major problem like drug or alcohol abuse, your district probably has counseling available. Often called “employee assistance programs,” they can help to get you going in the right direction. Check out your health insurance policy; it will have other private options for mental health care. If your problems have become physical (stress takes a terrible toll on your body) get help now. You are not alone.

The first step is to sit down with your building principal and let her know you’re experiencing some stress-related health issues; can she suggest some ways to fight off burnout? She’s probably been there, so she will know what you’re talking about. Seek out other SPED teachers; they will be supportive and understand the unique challenges you face.

The Internet has become a rich source of support for many teachers. There are forums where you can anonymously share your stories and receive practical advice from teachers in your field. Some resources

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Although this article is part of a blog series, I’d be happy to hear from you and even share some stories and practical tips for support. I’m a veteran, and I’m sure there is nothing you can say that could shock or offend. Leave a comment below, I’ll respond and we can start a dialogue. We are all better when we work together. 

Let me know how you’re doing.


Grant Name: Foundation Grants

Funded By: Patterson Foundation

Description: The foundation provides resources to programs and to nonprofit organizations in the areas of oral health, animal health, and occupational and physical rehabilitation. Funds are granted for: Health and Human Services programs related to the focus areas that benefit economically disadvantaged people or youth with special needs; and Education as it relates to the focus areas, especially programs that increase the number of underrepresented people in the dental, veterinary, occupational health and physical health fields.

Program Areas: Public School, Private School, Higher Education, Other

Eligibility: At-Risk/Character, Community Involvement/Volunteerism, Disabilities, Early Childhood, Family Services, General Education, Health/PE

Proposal Deadline: Ongoing

Annual Total Amount: $5,000.00 – $75,000.00

Average Amount: $500,000.00 – $800,000.00

Address: 1031 Mendota Heights Road, St. Paul, MN 55120-1419

Telephone: 651-686-1929

Email: information@pattersonfoundation.net

Website: Patterson Foundation

Availability: All States