Paraprofessionals in the SPED Classroom

by Neva Fenno, M.S.Ed. MLIS

pile of folders

Sometimes, an Ed Plan (IEP, Individual Education Plan) contains a mandate for a paraprofessional to accompany a child throughout the day (one-to-one aide). In Massachusetts the law states:

“Substantially separate programs operated by public schools shall limit class sizes to nine students with one teacher and one paraprofessional.”

So, there may be several paraprofessionals in a substantially separate classroom, the classroom paraprofessional and paraprofessionals assigned to a child whose Ed Plan requires it. The law is huge and complex, and some flexibility is built in to accommodate larger class sizes.

Classroom paraprofessionals in special education have historically been underpaid and hard to find. NCLB regulations have bolstered the federal 94-142 law by tightening regulations for paraprofessional training. A good discussion of these requirements would take another blog or two, but you can read more about this here. If you are a parent, and you are trying to secure a one-to-one-paraprofessional for your special education child, it’s often a case of be careful what you wish for. A good paraprofessional is a treasure for a child, her family, and a teacher. A bad one ……?

For a teacher, managing a classroom is sometimes the most difficult part of the job. Scheduling, behavior management, and routine activities must be carefully orchestrated. SPED children in particular, need a set routine. The good news is a one-to-one paraprofessional may work with other children in the classroom. If there is a group activity, the paraprofessional does not need to restrict her assistance to the one child in her care; she may pitch in and help the teacher with the group.

Many teachers have developed good rapport and excellent management protocols for paraprofessionals in their classroom. I have some resources for classroom management with paraprofessionals here:

The main goal that guides hiring decisions for paraprofessionals is staying within the intent of the IEP. Paraprofessionals come and go with frequency, and a parent may change her mind about the need for a paraprofessional if the classroom resources are sufficient to support her child without one. A well-meaning and well educated parent can be an asset for a classroom teacher. She can also throw a monkey wrench into a teacher’s well-crafted plans. Managing parents can be a full time job too.

I’m making this all sound impossible to orchestrate. “Regular” classroom teaching is difficult; special education management is an especially delicate balancing act because of legal realities. Experience will be the best teacher if you are patient. Learn about the law and IEP’s. If you are deft, you can arrange things so the paraprofessionals in the classroom are trained to pick up all the mundane duties leaving you with the fun part; the art of teaching.

If you find you have a difficult situation brewing with a paraprofessional, make sure your principal and district special ed coordinator are in the loop. Document every transgression, no matter how slight. Sit down with your aides often; evaluate them according to the rules in your district and state. Removing a paraprofessional is difficult, but if a principal is in agreement with your need to adjust your personnel situation, it will be easier to transfer one out. Also, your relationship with parents can help you guide your paraprofessional assignments through the IEP process.

Add to our list of resources, help guide this blog, and tell me about your challenges. I may feature your class or school in upcoming blog entries.

Grant Name: IWP Foundation Educational Grants

Funded By: Innovating Worthy Projects Foundation

Description: Giving on a national basis. The Foundation makes grants to organizations dedicated to serving developing innovative programs, disseminating ideas, or providing direct care or services for children with special needs, acute illnesses or chronic disabilities.

Program Areas: Disabilities, Early Childhood, Special Education

Eligibility: Public School, Private School, Other

Proposal Deadline: 12/31/2014

Annual Total Amount: $100,000.00 – $200,000.00

Average Amount: $1,000.00 – $10,000.00

Address: 4045 Sheridan Avenue, Ste. 296, Miami Beach, FL 33140

Telephone: 305-861-5352


Website: Innovating Worthy Projects Foundation

Availability: All States

Community Resources in the Special Education Classroom

by Neva Fenno, M.S.Ed. MLIS

Pennies on the Dollar - bill with pennies on white background.

I’ve talked often about costs for services to our special needs children. We can all agree that it is an investment in our future. In one lifetime, I have witnessed special kids who were once warehoused in government facilities, but are now assimilated into the general school community. Everyone benefits from this arrangement, even “regular” kids who learn tolerance and respect for others in the process.

Teaching can be isolating. We are in our classrooms all day, with huge responsibilities and very little help along the way (or so it can seem).

To banish this feeling of isolation we can tap in to community agencies. These rich resources are government and private organizations devoted to bringing the disabled citizen into active participation in community activities. There is nothing that says you can’t reach out for help running the day-to-day management of your classroom.

Be sure to bring your principal into the decision making process, but why not call the ARC in your city to see if there are volunteers who might be willing to come in and assist students in your class. The Salvation Army runs wonderful summer and after school programs for low-income children. has a clearinghouse of information for community resources for many disabling conditions. Did you know there’s a National Center for Accessible Instructional Materials? They can guide you and help you select appropriate planning tools and materials for your classroom situation.

The list goes on and on, but a place to start in your town might be the Chamber of Commerce. They have directories of agencies and organizations in your location. Another one-stop shop for directories of agencies that can help teachers with their disabled students is the United Way.

Assistance can take many forms, your local school of education or social work in a college or university can supply volunteers, teacher aides, and student teachers (who can’t use another set of hands?). Agencies might help to find computers for your students, or basic school supplies that are always hard to find. The assistance is only limited by your imagination and willingness to ask for help. Isn’t that what grant writing is after all, a willingness to ask for help?

I find that whenever I have that isolated feeling, it’s time to start eating lunch in the “teacher’s room” again. I usually avoid these repositories of gossip and useless chatter, but an occasional visit can renew alliances. It’s also a reminder that you are part of a community. It’s tempting to be sucked in to the drama of the moment in these rooms, but if you keep it occasional, you can learn about new resources that may be available to you.

When isolated, you may find that a refresher course or professional development class can be just the ticket to rebuilding a feeling of community in your school. Some resources for professional development for SPED teachers:

Council for Exceptional Children (CEC)

National Association of Special Education Teachers (NASPET)

Education Week


Professional Development Institute

Knowledge Delivery Systems

Add to our list, help guide this blog, and tell me about your challenges. I may feature your class or school in upcoming blog entries.

Grant Name: USGA Alliance Grants

Funded By: National Alliance for Accessible Golf

Description: Grants support organizations which provide opportunities for individuals with disabilities to learn and enjoy the game of golf and its inherent values. The Alliance and the USGA share the belief that the game of golf is exceptionally well-suited to allow individuals with disabilities to participate in a recreational or competitive activity with participants who have various types of disabilities as well as those who do not have disabilities. We encourage inclusive programming – opportunities that allow participants with disabilities and participants without disabilities to learn and play the game side by side.

Program Areas:   Disabilities, Health/PE

Eligibility: Public School, Other

Proposal Deadline: Ongoing

Average Amount: $1,000.00 – $20,000.00

Address: 1733 King Street, Alexandria, VA 22314

Telephone: 812-320-1126



Availability: All States