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

Is Your Classroom Paraprofessional a Positive Factor in Your Class?

Regulations regarding the assignment of paraprofessionals (paras) in special education classrooms depend on many factors. There are guidelines available, but much depends on your location (state) and the way you present your needs to your district administrators.

Group Of Elementary Age Children In Art Class With TeacherIf you really want to have a paraprofessional in your classroom, you will need to work with district SPED coordinators to define your needs and rationale. Some paras provide personal assistance as required by language in an IEP, usually for physically disabled students who need support with day-to-day activities. Acquiring a general classroom para, if not explicitly required by your state, is still challenging despite legal requirements. Your IEP process provides help; it is a legal document. 

Sometimes it’s a “be careful what you wish for” proposition, though. I know a young special education teacher who has been assigned two SPED paras in her class; one is a personal aide. They are both capable people, but she wonders how helpful the help is when she has to spend so much of her day training them to provide services. One of her aides is an older woman who has firm opinions about what she should be doing on a daily basis. She’s been an aide for a long time and is potentially a godsend, but first the generation gap needs to be addressed. She talks endlessly about her favorite teacher from the past, Ms. XYZ, and how she would have done things. 

My advice is to be upfront and completely transparent about your needs. Right away, make sure aides understand who is in charge in the classroom. You can become accustomed to eye rolling, loud sighs and other body language from disapproving aides if these issues aren’t addressed soon and often. Prepare evaluation checklists, and review them weekly. If the aide isn’t performing and filling your needs, let them know and share your concerns with your principal and district officials. If the aide becomes a problem, create a paper trail with dates and times. In serious situations, use the camera on your phone. If a personal aide is responsible for toileting and the child comes back from the bathroom with dirty hands every day, take a picture and share it with the aide—not as a hammer and a threat, but to illustrate your point. A picture is worth…

Math Teacher Writing on Chalk BoardThere are some wonderful training manuals available for paraprofessionals. Adopt one, and then provide it as a gift to a new aide. Require that she read it and adopt it as the official guide. I used to spend lunchtime with aides, especially in the beginning of the year, going over the material in the guide we used. Check with your district coordinator; she may have a library for teachers with materials that can be helpful. Your library media specialist can help you review materials and choose items for your own classroom library.

One of your best allies (hopefully) are the parents. Parents can be very vocal if they are not happy with an aide assigned to their child. If you haven’t convinced administrators that you have a problem, bring in the parents. Be careful here: you aren’t recruiting help. Be sure the parent shares all of your concerns already to prepare a unified front.

The world of paraprofessional training has changed drastically over the years. I remember when an aide would be assigned to my classroom, and what I saw was a mom or student who wanted a part-time job on the side. Now, paraprofessionals are well-trained, well-educated and devoted professionals who are proud of their calling.

In an ideal classroom environment, your aides are your trusted companions and often become friends. The aides, if you have more than one, hopefully work well together and don’t bump into each other’s responsibilities. Their roles are well defined. This isn’t an impossible scenario. It takes time and a consistent approach, finding your rhythm day by day.

Some resources for managing paraprofessionals:

Let me know how you’re doing.


Grant Name: Educational Grants

Funded By: The Max and Victoria Dreyfus Foundation, Inc.

Description: Giving on a national basis to support museums, cultural and performing arts programs; schools, hospitals, educational and skills training programs, programs for youth, seniors, and the handicapped; environmental and wildlife protection activities; and other community-based organizations and their programs. Organizations seeking support from the Foundation may submit a letter of request, not exceeding three pages in length, which includes a brief description of the purpose of the organization, and a brief outline of the program or project for which funding is sought.

Program Areas: After-School, Arts, At-Risk/Character, Disabilities, General Education, Health/PE, Math, Reading, Science/Environmental, Social Studies, Special Education, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math)

Eligibility:  Public School, Private School, Higher Education, Other

Proposal Deadline:  5/10/2015

Annual Total Amount: $2,800,000.00 – $4,000,000.00

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

Address: 2233 Wisconsin Avenue N.W., Suite 414, Washington, DC 20007

Telephone: 202-337-3300

Email: info@mvdreyfusfoundation.org

Website: Max and Victoria Dreyfus Foundation, Inc

Availability:  All States

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

I like:

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