Paraprofessionals’ Role in Special Education Introduction The MN National Resource Center for Paraprofessionals defines a paraprofessional as an employee: Who works under the supervision of a professional staff/a teacher who holds the ultimate duty for education programs as well as related services’ design, implementation and evaluation. It also defines him as an employee who is in an instructional position or who provides other indirect or direct services to both students and their family members (McVay, 2000). A paraprofessional is able to know a student better compared to anyone else. This is especially so if he/she is working with a student one-to-one. They therefore are significant teaching team members (Hultgren, 2004). Other names for a paraprofessional are teacher aides, educational technicians or paraeducators. In most cases, due to concern for the success of their children, parents require that a full-time paraprofessional be present (McVay, 2000). Recently, in numerous school systems, the use of paraprofessionals to help in special education services’ provision has been on the increase. One of the factors behind this increase is the economic factor as paraprofessionals provide are a cost effective service delivery models in meeting students with disabilities’ needs. Therefore, with proper training and supervision, paraprofessionals could offer a cost effective and efficient means of assisting students with disabilities. Actually, Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA)-driven
accountability factors, shortage of specialized teachers for special education, the special education services’ increased demands, and regular classroom placement/inclusion emphasis have greatly contributed to the mounting role of paraprofessionals. This is particularly apparent in rural areas where cost-effective models for service delivery as well as efficiency of scale’s dynamics as it relates to teacher-student ratios while managing low incidence disabilities are peculiarly demanding (Breton, 2010). Hultgren (2004) notes that particularly with the presence of numerous children who require one-to-one assistance, paraprofessionals’ roles have become quite broad. She further notes that generally, paraprofessionals help with building classroom partnerships informal assessment, classroom organization, implementing objectives, carrying out lesson plans, and behaviour management. They do this by working with whole classes, small groups and individual children. They are quite often requested to gather information on skill acquisition and may be expected to present it at a PPT. Since the job of paraprofessionals is particularly so hard to define, supervisors sometimes expand their role, even while it is inappropriate, particularly if one is competent. At times, even if it is definitely not part of paraprofessionals’ job description, they are made to carry out the role of liaising between regular and special education systems. Regrettably, since they often know the children best, they may come to the realization that the regular education teacher, for example, does not know how to modify the child’s work. In that case, they may feel the necessity of going for advice from the special education teacher. At times, disagreements pertaining the special child’s abilities or needs may arise and paraprofessionals can in that case play the role of an advocate for the child. Only recently, paraprofessionals have taken the role of helping children to take part in included settings. As IDEA points out, they are deemed a supplemental aid (Hultgren, 2004). On being assigned to a teacher or a classroom to help students with disabilities, it is important that paraprofessionals are viewed as an aide for all students – thus, the teacher is allowed and encouraged to take ownership of each student in his/her class. It also offers a chance for additional support and instruction to all students as well as the teacher. Paraprofessionals usually help with such tasks as providing support for personal care as well as other physical needs, gathering materials, assisting interactions between students, adapting lessons under the guidance of the teacher, leading teacher-designed small group instruction, assisting students to complete the teacher’s directions, in addition to carrying out other, often concealed, but very vital tasks for the classroom community. The paraprofessional’s role changes as classrooms’ complexity changes (McVay, 2000). Paraprofessionals also play the vital role of linking schools and communities. The relationship between the community and the school greatly determines the functioning of the school. If a school employs paraprofessionals who are more similar to the families and students in the communities, this crosses the gap between primarily families of color, white students and teachers. Most paraprofessionals live in the geographical boundaries that the school serves, and they live amongst the students. This is often not the case with teachers. Additionally, they act as the key contact persons for families with children with the most striking disabilities. Since paraprofessionals spend considerable amounts of time with students with disabilities, they must communicate with their parents. They therefore provide valuable links with the communities where they work (French, 2004). Another role that paraprofessionals play is that of acting as a communication ‘link’ for a student to others in his/her environments. They may assist him/her communicate with adults as well as his/her peers in different ways. This mostly applies for students who use augmented communication in an education setting. For such students, paraprofessionals are often in charge of programming the terminology used with the augmentative communication device in different settings such as school-related social settings and specific classes. They have the role of ensuring that a student uses this device frequently and efficiently (McVay, 2000). It is important to note that although paraprofessionals play a vital role as part of the educational team, the law restraints them on their responsibilities. For instance, it does not permit them to assume absolute responsibility for students, to write programs without a certified personnel’s supervision, or to make new, alternative training without a certified personnel’s direction. At times when their role paraprofessional is not clear, paraprofessionals may actually act as a hindrance to the learning of students. It is therefore important to examine paraprofessionals’ role severally. Their role changes once a student can excel in the classroom following the development of peer supports. For some students however, a paraprofessional’s role will go on being a requisite. Nevertheless, with the development of accommodations and natural supports in addition to the student learning the new classroom practices in due course, their one-to-one interaction should decrease (McVay, 2000). Conclusion Apparently, paraprofessionals are an increasingly significant part in special education. This is especially so as special education services’ costs keep on increasing. However, as Breton (2010) indicates, contrary to the requirements of IDEA, most paraprofessionals regrettably generally receive minimal supervision and do not have adequate formal training to enable them instruct students with disabilities. It is therefore the role of local education school districts as well as states to ensure that paraprofessionals in special education receive suitable and quality supervision levels to enable them perform their duties (Breton, 2010). References Breton, W. (2010). Special Education Paraprofessionals: Perceptions of Preservice Preparation, Supervision, and Ongoing Developmental Training. International Journal of Special Education 25 (1), 34-45. French, N. K. (2004). Introduction to the Special Series. Remedial and special educ ation. 25(4), 203-204. Hultgren, S. (2004). The Paraprofessional Role. Retrieved from http://www.ct-asrc.org/docs/paraprof.pdf McVay, P. (2000). Paraprofessionals in the Classroom: What Role do they Play? Spring. 8(3), 1-4.