Not every teacher has the luxury of working with a paraprofessional in the classroom. But I am here to tell you a good parapro is worth their weight in gold (and in many cases, even more!). I want to share tips and ideas I’ve heard or collected over the years to make this working relationship the very best it can be.
Please note that I use the terms paraprofessional, aide, and parapro interchangeably. I know some people may view one term better than others, but I’ve been in schools where each was used. I have appreciated my hard-working colleagues in every position, regardless of the title that was used in that particular building.
Share the Basics
Many times the teacher is in charge of creating her or his own schedule. Or we are handed the schedule by our administrator. BUT we need to ensure our parapro knows what is happening as well. Give them all the schedules they may need – the day to day classroom schedule, the specials schedule, early release or days off from school, speech/OT/PT/special education, etc.
If you have a parent letter about your basic expectations and classroom rules, this is another great piece of information to share with your aide. While they will pick up on your ways as they spend time in your classroom, it’s important for them to be able to help you with consistency in discipline. Don’t make them guess how things work!
I remember the aides sitting in the back of the classroom when I was a student. They sat there most of the day and corrected papers. Or they ran to the copy machine to make copies. But this is NOT what I wanted to happen when I was the classroom teacher! My personal philosophy was that – first and foremost – the parapro in my room was there to help the students, just like I was. That meant answering questions, being involved in our activities, and ensuring kiddos stayed on task – all the same things I was doing!
On more than one occasion I even asked the paraprofessional in my room to help lead a lesson. This way I could work with a particular student, manage a behavior, check for understanding around the room, or attend to something else. She was a partner, and it worked wonderfully!
We each had our own routines for the day to help ensure things went smoothly. I’m the kind of person who typed all this out at the beginning of the year – both what I would be doing and what my parapro would help take care of. This worked perfectly in our situation because she would often step into the role of teacher if I needed a sub, and then a sub would take on her role. All of our day-to-day tasks were written down – so anyone could easily do what was asked without much extra work needed.
Provide feedback as needed to ensure the day-to-day operations run smoothly. Many times I would leave a little note thanking the paraprofessional for something they had done the previous day – helping a student with something tricky, taking care of a behavior issue before I could get to it, covering an extra recess, or just a general thanks for all their hard work.
If there’s something you want changed, it’s important to address that as well. State your concerns professionally and give examples of what you want done. If problems continue, it may be time to get a supervisor involved.
And while you’re providing feedback, also take the time to ASK for feedback. Many times the paraprofessionals we are working with have ideas or strategies they’ve seen or used in the past that are worth trying. They may also have ideas we can use to streamline our teaching or make things easier. And behaviors are another area some may excel in – so get their opinion.
Stay Organized & COMMUNICATE
I know every teacher has their own organization style, but when working with a paraprofessional in the classroom it’s important for them to understand how you work. Show them where you are storing things. Keep them up-to-date on where to find paperwork or important documents. They are your right-hand-(wo)man, so treat them with respect and keep them in the loop.
The same goes with schedule changes or other things that may come up! Keep them informed about changes through open regular communication. If you’re comfortable with this, allow her/him access to your lesson plans or calendar. (If you’ve gone digital, give them permission to view and/or edit everything online.)
This point should go without saying, but do not bellyache about your para. If you think teachers are underpaid, think about the time, effort, and money paraprofessionals put into their positions and how little they are financially paid. Most times people in these positions do just as many amazing things and build the lasting relationships with students that we as teachers do.
Do not ask your para to do anything you yourself would not be willing to do. Do not give them the tasks you simply don’t want to do. And keep things fair. I’ve seen teachers load their aides with all the recess duties so they could run to the teachers’ lounge multiple times a day. Personally, I ensured the parapro I worked with all school year got a 30 minute duty-free lunch every day. She told me it was the first time in nine years someone did that. (I was very saddened by those before me when she told me!)
Working with a paraprofessional in the classroom can be an extremely rewarding experience. It can allow the students a lower student to staff ratio, allowing them to learn even more during the year.
What other tips or ideas would you share? Feel free to leave them in the comments below!