Saturday, February 6, 2010

Working with Para-Professionals

As a young, first year teacher, working with a para-professional can bring a multitude of challenges. From the onset, it is important for the teacher to share her beliefs with the para-profesional. The para-professional and the teacher need to work together in tandem but the para will be at a disadvantage if she does not know the teacher's expectations. Here are important topics the teacher and para-professional should discuss:

1. Discipline. Will there be a classroom discipline plan? The teacher should know how she plans to deal with discipline and be able to explain it to the para-professional and others. Will the teacher expect the para-professional to implement the plan? The teacher should share her expectations for the paras role in classroom discipline. For example, if a child is misbehaving and the teacher is dealing with the child, does the teacher want the para-professional to jump in too? Probably not. It's hard on children to have too many bosses. Here's another example--If the children are gathered on the carpet listening to the teacher read a book and someone misbehaves, how should the para respond? Unobtrusively. Intervening without further disrupting the learning of the children or the teacher's work should be the goal of the para-professional. It may help the teacher the most, if the para moved into close proximity with the child, and whispered in the child's ear, or gently touched the child on the shoulder, reminding the child to listen as the teacher reads.

2. Paper Work. Will the teacher expect the para-professional to help with records, notes to parents, etc.? If so, what are the expectations? It's important to note that all permanent records should be recorded with black ink. Neatness and accurateness are critical elements of all interactions.

3. Parent Interactions. Sometimes, the para-professional may receive notes from parents or talk with them before or after school. The teacher should explain that it is critical to keep the teacher informed of all communication with parents. If the parent sends a note to say the child will be leaving early, the para needs to inform the teacher because the teacher may need to alter the class schedule and make accommodations. For example, if there is a scheduled spelling test at 2:00, and the child is leaving at 1:30, the teacher might move the spelling test to an earlier time so that the child would not have to take a retest. If the child has been sick, the parent might send a note to the teacher. If the para finds the note first, she must inform the teacher because the child may require medication, need to stay inside during recess, or need other special arrangements.

When I think of the best para-professionals I've ever worked with, I'm reminded of the old adage, children are to be seen and not heard. I don't agree with the adage at all for children. However, it's a pretty accurate description of the great para-professionals--they are seen but not heard. Don't take this literally. I don't mean that para's shouldn't talk, but rather, their voices are quiet. They work behind the scenes. They are the teacher's right and left hand. They know what to do before it even happens. Para-professionals help organize, clean up, and support the teacher and the students. These are just a few of things the teacher should discuss with a para-professional. Be honest with each other and work through issues as they arise.

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