Results-Oriented Job Descriptions How Paraeducators Help Students Achieve
"The range and flexibility of paraeducator positions make it difficult for most folks to understand exactly where our role begins and ends. We are the mortar that fits where it needs to fit to keep the whole structure together."
-- Sandie Blankenship, Special Education Paraeducator, North Kingstown, Rhode Island
The mission of every public school district is to develop and implement goals that will create an education environment which enhances student achievement.
This mission cannot be achieved without the contributions and accomplishments of paraeducators. As public schools come under greater pressure to meet standards and demonstrate higher student performance, teachers are being forced to focus more on curriculum and student test preparation.
In response to this pressure, Education Support Professionals (ESP) paraeducators are assuming greater responsibility for supporting students in the classroom and the school environment.
These increased challenges have redefined paraeducators' jobs. These ESPs perform duties and tasks far beyond the narrow limits and definitions of their traditional job descriptions.
In addition to assisting teachers, paraeducators are critical in many situations during the school day, such as mediating disputes, communicating between administration and parents or parents and school staff, and ensuring student safety.
When asked what is important to them in their daily work (apart from student achievement), paraeducators identify four objectives:
- Recognition of the vital role they play
- Respect for their professionalism
- Job security
- Equitable pay
One way to help achieve these outcomes is to develop job descriptions that are accurate and complete and that reflect the full range of ways paraeducators contribute to the overall mission of the school district and the community.
A new approach -- a results-oriented job description (ROJD) -- can provide clear job expectations for the paraeducator and for his or her supervisor.
This manual outlines the process by which these new job descriptions can be written. The process benefits more than just the individual paraeducator; it also strengthens the local Association and creates new understanding in the community of the role paraeducators play in building quality public education.
"I keep hoping that someone will take a sanity break and realize that paraprofessionals are dedicated PROFESSIONALS, a well-trained group of people who do a fantastic job for our kids every day. What we need are more resources, better in-service training (aimed at paras, not teacher-tag-alongs), much more professional development, much higher salaries, and more respect!"
Who Are Paraeducators?
Paraeducators wear many hats. They are:
- Instructional and Noninstructional Assistants
- Teachers Aides and Program Aides
- Library Aides, Technicians, and Assistants
- Preschool Care Givers
- Building, Bus, and Playground Monitors
- Crossing Guards -
- Nonmanagerial Supervisors
Paraeducators in the schools
More than 700,000 paraeducators work in the nation's public schools. As the largest of NEA's nine ESP job groups, they make up 46 percent of the K-12 ESP membership and a third of the U.S. K-12 ESP workforce.
Sixty-three percent of paraeducators work directly with prekindergarten or elementary level students. Close to three-quarters work with special education students. Approximately 18 percent work in bilingual programs and about 38 percent in programs directly supported by Title I federal funds. Eighty-one percent work full time, and 63 percent are paid on an hourly basis. Their average annual salary is less than $16,000.
Many paraeducators are actively involved in professional development or higher education. Thirty-eight percent plan to earn an advanced degree within the next four years. Twelve percent are currently attending school or college, and 85 percent have attended professional development training in the past two years.
Paraeducators in the community
Roughly 75 percent of paraeducators live in the communities where they work. They are active community members, participating in religious organizations, clubs, the PTA, band or sports booster groups, and community safety organizations like volunteer fire departments.
Eighty-five percent volunteer on a regular basis; 65 percent volunteer to work directly with children. Many paraeducators voluntarily assume the responsibility of strengthening contact with parents. They often speak the language of the students and can serve as a liaison between the school and non- English speaking parents.