In all of my special ed. studies in college (Go, Falcons!) I was never taught how to work with a paraprofessional. Crazy,, right? Of course, for the first few years of my teaching career, I taught students with learning disabilities and didn't have any paras in my classrooms. When I started teaching at my current position (17 years ago, yikes!), I gained my first para, Mrs. B. Mrs. B. quickly became my teammate, mentor, and friend. I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I started teaching students with emotional and behavior disorders! Through the years, I have had other paras, good and bad in my room. Some have talked during quiet work times, read the newspapers that I brought in for student work, and sat on their phones!! When the paras are older than you, it is hard to correct their behavior, besides you have to deal with students and paperwork! So here are some ideas that I have learned through the years.
1. Decide what your para is to do during the day. If he/she is a one-on -one aide, are they to meet the student as he/she comes in the school, or can should the para sit next to that student or in general quick access to the student? If the para is for the whole classroom, what will their responsibilities be? In my room, my classroom para is in charge of making sure students that ordered breakfast get breakfast- we eat in the room, take orders for lunch, take attendance, and give all paperwork (breakfast, lunch orders, and list of names that are not riding the bus). All of our students ride the bus- we do not allow students to walk to school, due to behaviors. Most of my one-on-one paras have been able to greet their student in the room and have not had to sit next to the student, unless that student really needs them.
2. Make a list of tasks and responsibilities for each para and write it down. I type up everyone's tasks so that everyone is clear about who does what. This helps when there are more than 2 or 3 paras in the room. One year, I had 5 paras! It was a nightmare- too many cooks in the kitchen! Of course, on everyone's list is that they all could cover for each other- some of our most neediest kids will burn you out if you always have to handle their crisis-es!
3. At the beginning of the school year, sit everyone down and go over all the lists of responsibilities. I also go over the rules of my classroom- no phones, be observant of working times, side conversations with each other, how we talk to our students and each other, break times, and my discipline policy.
4. Make a plan to meet up each day either before or after school for a quick 5 to 10 minutes to go over what went well and what could be improved in the classroom. Several times, my paras were able to point out or give me great ideas to improve my classroom management, flow, or things that needed to be changed- like our recess time wasn't working, because another class was in the gym or outside. At first, I meet with my paras everyday, but then as we get into the groove we meet together at least twice a week. We still talk with each other everyday before and after school, but it's more informal. When there has been a crisis or meltdown that day, we go over what happened, how we reacted, what could we have done differently, did we act quick enough, and how it was resolved.
5. Also make sure that all of your paras are getting a break for lunch and make sure you also get a break! Some years I thought that I had to be with the students every minute of the day to keep the behaviors under control, but I made myself CRAZY! Everyone needs some time away, even if it's just 5 to 10 minutes, due to behaviors that are happening in the room.
6. Listen to your paras. Remember, you are a team working together for the students. If a para isn't comfortable in leading a small group in science or math, find something else they can do during that time. I have my paras work with students during centers and give each para a lesson plan so they know what exactly to work on. I have had paras that just couldn't help the students with math (when I taught high school ED) so they sat back and worked one on one with a student that was working way below grade level or sat at my teaching table with me to help keep kids on task. Sometimes my paras have told me that they didn't feel very effective with a certain student and we talked about what could be done and brainstormed ideas together. I have even asked for advice about lessons and what my paras thought of the ideas.
7. If you are having trouble with a para, and you have met with them, talked with them about the problem, and nothing seems to be helping, get your principal involved. Have everything documented- yes, it's one more thing, but important. Talk to your principal or director or supervisor about the problem. One year, I had a para that kept falling asleep in class, came in 15 to 20 minutes late everyday, yelled at the students, and just wasn't working well in my room. Nothing helped. I met with him, went over the school and my classroom rules and procedures- he would tell me that he would do better and the next day it would be the same. I talked it over with my supervisor and she came to observe "the room" and saw some of the problems and then she talked with him and it was decided that he needed to take a leave of absence and then be placed in a different position.
Wow! I didn't realize how much I had to share about working with paras! I hope that I helped. How do you deal with paras in your classroom? Do you have any other ideas? Let's share!