The main key to success is communication. The very first day we met, this is the first thing I pointed out. No matter what we were feeling, we would communicate with each other the good and the bad. Working as close together as we do, it is important that we talk to each other. As a teacher, I would make sure the paraprofessionals knew what I expected and why. If the paraprofessionals didn’t understand or disagreed, I was told privately and not in front of the students. Usually at the end of the day, we would spend about 15 minutes evaluating the day, talking about what worked and what didn’t.
Trust is important when you are working this closely with a person. I made it clear that I would keep them in the loop of what is going on around the classroom and the school. Sometimes teachers see paraprofessionals as a second class citizen and this is totally wrong. I treated my paraprofessionals as fellow colleagues in the workplace and insisted that other teachers and students treat them the same way.
I wrote out a list of duties for the paraprofessionals so it was clear what I needed. This helped at the beginning of the year as a checklist so I didn’t have to follow up behind.
I discussed my classroom expectations and rules with the paraprofessionals before the students every arrived. We would be like parents to the students and they will play us against each other every chance they could. We would explain to the class ahead of time that this would not work and that if they went to one adult after they were already told no, the consequences would be dire. We backed each other up in front of the students (even if we didn’t agree – which we would discuss later when students weren’t there).
I always asked if the paraprofessionals had any suggestions or ideas when I was planning for the next week or the next unit. Sometimes they may have a different perspective that could help with the lesson.
Sometimes I listed duties and we split them up. Many times the paraprofessionals were stronger in one aspect and enjoyed doing somethings that I didn’t. This meant less stress for me. I liked to focus on their strengths and use them in the way that benefitted all of us.
We discussed students and problems and how to handle behaviors. Sometimes there was just personality conflicts and luckily we didn’t feel the same way about the same students so a lot of times we split up the students so we could work with the ones we got along with best. This was not all of the time, but sometimes it helps the dynamics of the class.
I used my paraprofessionals as sounding boards, shoulders to cry on, and as a major player in my support system. I didn’t always have a paraprofessionals every year I taught so I really appreciated the times I had one. Unfortunately, I never had a class in college that prepared me for working with a paraprofessionals and I have heard from many others that they are in the same boat. If you have questions that I can answer, please feel free to ask away and I’ll try to help.
(Remember how earlier I mentioned that it was important to find your support system? Well, I'm taking a few days off to go hiking and camping in Shenandoah National Park to relieve some stress but I should be back on Friday. See you then!)