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Paraeducators and Student-to-Student Bullying

Paraeducators on Frontlines of Prevention Efforts

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Bullying behavior is a growing concern among America’s educators. Bullying is generally defined as repeated aggressive acts intended to do harm, and is characterized by a power or status difference between the students. Bullying includes not only physical aggression such as hitting or stealing, but also verbal aggression, such as threatening, name calling, spreading rumors, socially rejecting and isolating someone, or cyberbullying (where bullies can hide behind the anonymity of the Internet).

Students who have been bullied report feeling depressed, anxious, and isolated. Many have low self-esteem. Their school attendance and performance may suffer. And in some cases they are so tormented they take their own lives.

Paraeducators (teaching assistants, teacher aides, paraprofessionals, paras) are often more likely than teachers to be in a position to witness bullying and intervene in bullying situations. But while there are many curriculum materials that provide educators with tools to teach students about bullying, few training opportunities are provided to paraeducators on how to deal with bullying situations. We know that for any bullying prevention initiative to be successful, all staff members need to be engaged and trained on prevention and intervention strategies.

Bullying is known to occur most often in areas where there is lit- tle or no adult supervision, such as at bus stops, on playgrounds, and in hallways, cafeterias, bathrooms, and classrooms before the lessons begin. The fact that most of these areas are monitored by paras should alert us to the need to include these key personnel in trainings related to bullying.

A 2005 study of paraeducators and special education students by the Council for Exceptional Children found that paras often served  as a protective buffer in bullying situations. When informed of bullying incidents by students with disabilities, it was typically the para who advocated on a student’s behalf to the principal or teach- ers. Paras also directly confronted students who bullied.

NEA has long been committed to bullying and harassment pre- vention and intervention. For decades, members have received training on how to recognize and intervene in student-to-student bullying situations. In order to assess the opinions of education support professionals as well as teachers on issues relating to bul- lying, NEA conducted two surveys—one in 2010 and one in 2012. Among the 2,900 ESPs surveyed in 2010, 979 were paraeducators. An additional 1,771 paras responded to bullying questions as part of an overall ESP survey in 2012.

What Paraeducators Said

They witness bullying. In 2010 and 2012, paraeducators were more likely than other ESPs to report seeing a student being bullied at their school. Over half of them—57%—reported wit- nessing it as frequently as several times a month.

They feel it's their job to intervene. Nearly all paraeducators surveyed—97%—report that it is “their job” to intervene when they see bullying situations.

They need training on bullying prevention and intervention. Nearly all the paraeducators surveyed report that their school district has a bullying policy, and 63% of them said they received training on that policy. Even though they are more likely to report receiving training than other ESPs, the remaining 37% of them represent a large untapped resource in school bullying prevention.

They want training on different forms of bullying. More than two-thirds of paraeducators reported that they need additional training on how to address different forms of bullying—physical, verbal, relational, cyberbullying, and sexting—and in situations involving children being bullied because of sexual orientation, disability, race, gender, and religion. They need to be invited/ encouraged to join school committees on bullying prevention. Among all ESPs, paraeducators are the group which is most likely to be involved in formal bullying prevention efforts in their schools. However, compared to teachers, their numbers are strikingly low. In 2012, only 26% reported being involved in school teams, committees or prevention programs dealing with bullying.

They report feeling slightly more connected to their school community than other EsPs, which influences bullying intervention. Connectedness is the belief by adults in the school that they are regarded as individuals and professionals involved in the learning process. Research has shown there is an important link between feeling connected to the school and being comfortable intervening with all forms of bullying among all types of students.

They are likely to live in their school community. The 2012 NEA survey found that 71% of paraeducators live in the school community where they work—a rate nearly twice as high as that of teachers. This means they know the students and their fami- lies, and can be an invaluable resource when seeking answers to bullying incidents.

Inform Yourself and Your Association

  • „ Visit, a good go-to-source for resources about how to help bullied students and how to prevent bullying in your school.
  • „ Seek input and collect data from other school staff to whom students go for support.
  • „ Request a bullying prevention and intervention training session from NEA and ensure all paraeducators are invited to attend.
  • „ Ask your school district to provide more training on current policies for bullying prevention and intervention and ensure all paraeducators are invited to attend.
  • „ Become involved in bullying prevention teams, committees, and other activities at your school or education association.
  • „ Initiate meetings with other staff to share concerns about bullying in general or specific students in particular.

NEA’s official website for the NEA Bully Free: It Starts with Me campaign.
Guidance on bullying from the U.S. Department of Education.
National PTA guide on safeguarding children from bullying.
Education Support Professionals website with links to bullying resources, including the 2010 NEA Nationwide Study of Bullying.
Educator Tip Sheets are available, such as: How to Intervene to Stop Bullying: Tips for On-the-Spot Intervention at School.
National Resource Center for Paraeducators has been compil- ing materials on and for paraeducators into bibliographies for 20 years, which include articles related to bullying.


Perspectives of students with intellectual disabilities about their experiences with paraprofessional support. 2005. Council for Exceptional Children, v.71, no. 4, p.423.

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