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.
If 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...
There 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:
- Job Description
- Management Best Practices
- Sample Handbook
- Tips for New SPED Teachers
- Resource Bibliography
Let me know how you're doing.
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