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