Paraeducators Make a Difference

JoAnne Lussier
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What is a Paraeducator?

More commonly known as teacher assistants, para titles and roles have changed over time. But what is a para? Paras provide instructional support to students but we are more than that, so much more. Now, more than ever, we are realizing the absence of normalcy in our lives due to the corona (Covid-19) virus. It’s been a little over two weeks since school was closed in attempts to lessen the grip this virus has on our society. Children are now being homeschooled, attending virtual classes, and learning how to navigate e-learning with their parents and guardians. It’s been a huge learning curve for students, teachers, and parents, but it seems to be working. They say it takes a village and that is what we have become. Kudos to everyone who has taken on the role of a teacher and para to facilitate their child’s education.

Where are the Paras?

But what about the paras? Where has this left us? From my standpoint, it feels like I am on the outside looking in. Teachers are still teaching but very few paras are being utilized in the virtual classrooms. We have been regulated to online professional development training to stay on payroll or been given a layoff notice. We have lost all contact with our students and the teachers we work so closely with each day and it’s a hard pill to swallow. I wonder how this pandemic will change the future of paras in the classroom. Will there be a revelation among school boards, administrators, and parents when they feel the loss of our presence or will we be phased out even more than we are now because business went on “almost” as usual without us? There is no doubt in my mind that my life as a para will change as a result of this experience. I just pray that the school closures will result in an eye-opening experience that leads to a better understanding of how paras contribute each day to the overall learning process and the well-being of every student.

The Life of a Paraeducator

Now that parents and professionals have had a couple weeks to homeschool their kids, I’m hoping paraeducators will be recognized for their invaluable contribution to every school district in the world. Paras either work one-to-one with students or have several students with varying degrees of ability in any subject at any given time. It’s like being a mom to multiple children who are each having a crisis of their own…all at the same time. We get pulled to and fro all day long doing our best to make sure everyone’s needs are being met. Some days are harder than others.

We are teachers, mentors, role models, support systems, school moms, mediators, nurturers, and caretakers on almost every level. Paras aren’t experts in just one subject that is taught year after year. We are expected to be proficient in every subject and at every grade level because we follow our students from class to class. We do the same work your children do so we are prepared to help them learn it. We not only support our students but the teachers we work with as well. We are constantly reassessing the best way to meet teacher expectations (which varies with every teacher) and how to package it together (with no planning time) for our students to be successful learners.

It is our job to ensure that teachers can teach and students can learn. In a perfect world, teachers and paras are dynamic duos. We work so closely together that we learn each other’s limits, strengths, and tolerance levels. We speak a secret language within the classroom, always anticipating each other’s next move, and passing the torch of wisdom back and forth to each other without missing a beat. There are days when tandem teaching is perfectly seamless and beautifully orchestrated. It feels like discovering a diamond in the rough. It’s a job well done that fuels our fire to keep going back day after day and stay polished so everyone’s children can shine.

It’s a Labor of Love

We are committed to the children and teachers we work with day after day, year after year. We don’t do it for the money because there is no money to be made by being a para. It is impossible to earn a living wage being a para unless it is supplemented with another means of income. We do it because we care and we make a difference.

So, the next time you think of a paraeducator as just a “helper” and less important in the learning process, I urge you to think again. We are priceless resources who make a measurable impact in the world.