Paraeducators, a Vital Aide in the Classroom

Betty Ashbaker (CPSE) and Brad Wilcox (TED) presented research and guides for paraeducators at the 16th Annual Paraprofessional Conference. The conference, sponsored by the Utah Personnel Development Center, was held in the Provo Marriott Hotel. “Paraeducators are more commonly known as teacher aides,” Ashbaker explained. The roles of these professionals vary by classroom, but the common thread among paraeducators is that they play a significant role.

Training teacher aides is important because their role is often misunderstood. “Young teachers come into the school system and give paraeducators more responsibility than they are capable of because they usually only have a high school diploma,” said Ashbaker. The age gap between new teachers and established teacher aides is the reason for such a misappropriation of responsibility in the classroom.

"We're talking about the kids who need the most being taught by people with the least training, so it's critical for paraeducators to know their roles and their limitations and what they can do for kids in the classroom."

Ashbaker will present a handbook she co-authored, a guide for teacher aides who work with special education students, and Wilcox will be presenting strategies teacher aides can use to improve literacy in the classroom. Paraeducators are particularly important in working with special needs students. “These teacher aides help students with special needs integrate into the classroom and help teachers understand how best to work with these students,” said Ashbaker.

Teacher aides do many things besides working with special needs students. In his presentation Wilcox explained that “they need to understand what should happen in the classroom, how to act as a support for the teacher, and how to become another instructor in the room.”

The need for paraeducator training is apparent throughout the school systems in the nation, and Ashbaker has created training materials to be used in community colleges and in-service training sessions to give paraeducators and teachers the tools to work together in the classroom. “Teachers need to be taught how to supervise paraeducators, and paraeducators need to know what is appropriate for their role,” said Ashbaker. “We’re talking about the kids who need the most being taught by people with the least training; so it’s critical for paraeducators to know their roles and their limitations and what they can do for kids in the classroom.”

Paraeducators can be important facilitators of literacy in the classroom once particular roles are established. “We can get paraeducators to really help teachers and use tools that they have to aid students in becoming literate,” said Wilcox. “If paraeducators would use some simple strategies, we wouldn’t see [so many] struggling learners.”

20 January 2010