Mutual respect. Teamwork. Common goals. When NEA Today asked three experienced paraeducators to comment on what makes teacher-para relationships click, these factors were mentioned by each. And there was one more: student success.
“When teachers and paras share the goal of educating students, the enthusiasm that occurs for both is phenomenal,” says Doreen McGuire-Grigg, a para for 22 years and president of the Lakeport Unified Classified Employees Association, Lakefield, California, and a graduate of ESP Leaders for Tomorrow.
“Remember, we’re there to educate the child,” says Robert Travers Jr., a para from Cambridge, Massachusetts. The 12-year veteran is a board member of Massachusetts Teachers Association and NEA, and treasurer of Cambridge Teachers Association.
“Paraeducators want the same thing as teachers . . . to have successful students,” says Vickie Jacquet, an operations field analyst for four years with the Lafayette Parish School Board in Louisiana. She previously spent eight years as a paraeducator and holds an associate degree in early childhood education. Jacquet is on the board of the Louisiana Association of Educators and the National Council for ESPs.
Our paraeducators responded to the following questions. Their initials follow their responses.
What common error(s) do new teachers make regarding paraeducators?
“They do not know the role of a paraeducator.” (VJ)
“They sometimes think paras are there for clerical purposes—copying, correcting papers—instead of working directly with students as support.” (DM)
“We’re not baby-sitters or copy people. We are there to assist teachers in carrying out their goals.” (RT)
When it comes to working with paras, what do you most admire in a new teacher?
“When they bring ‘openness’ to the classroom that strengthens the teaching and learning structure.” (VJ)
“When they arrive with a fresh aspect to the classroom environment. The classroom has changed in the last 10 years.” (RT)
What can new teachers do to make the most of working with a paraeducator?
”Collaborate, listen, and understand the para’s duties. Collaboration helps keep harmony in the classroom!” (DM)
“A new teacher should utilize the para’s skills and knowledge to create a great working environment.” (VJ)
What is your own goal when working with a teacher?
“Parity. I need to know that both of us are working toward the same outcome.” (DM)
“To help carry out the goals that the teacher has for their classroom. We meet regularly, and I accept her suggestions or approach when dealing with children.” (RT)
What advice do you have for teachers in the early stage of their career in terms of working with paraeducators?
“Tap into the information paras have to share. It may be info on a student, playground rules, or past incidents at the school.” (DM)
“Come up with a plan with your paraeducator.” (RT)
“Acknowledge your appreciation for the endless effort that the paraeducator brings to the classroom.” (VJ)