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NYC Helpline: How To: Develop as a Professional

If You are Fortunate Enough to Have a Paraprofessional What Should You Do?
Theresa London Cooper

One of the greatest assets a new teacher can have is an experienced paraprofessional. Seasoned paraprofessionals have varied experiences and can teach a new teacher many valuable lessons that will help her avoid typical first-year teacher mistakes.

In my first year teaching, I was fortunate enough to have an experienced paraprofessional. She was very knowledgeable about classroom practice and child development. She couldn’t quote the theory – most of what I learned, but she sure knew the practice. She had wisdom and common sense. Together, we were a great team.

It is important to know your paraprofessional’s strengths and challenges so that you can assign her appropriate and respectful tasks. Some have taken college courses and may possess an Associate’s Degree in Arts or Science- while others have Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science degrees. In my classroom Ms. M. worked with small groups of students while I worked with the majority of the students. She helped me prepare homework. We conferred about the students and planned follow-up lessons.

Ms. M became my critical friend and often gave me feedback on my lessons. Her feedback helped me connect theory and practice. Additionally, she served as a chaperon on class trips and provided support in preparation of assembly programs. She knew many of the parents which afforded her a great deal of respect from them and their children.

Should you be fortunate enough to have a veteran paraprofessional, plan and collaborate with her, give her instructional duties and make the most of her knowledge and skills. Moreover, let your students know that they should respect her and follow her directions. If you have any corrections to make, make them in private so as not to have students eavesdrop on your conversation causing the paraprofessional to feel uncomfortable or embarrassed.

Paraprofessionals can play a critical role in the classroom supporting student achievement. If you have a paraprofessional and have not taken advantage of her expertise, I encourage you to rethink your approach, get to know her and benefit from her expertise. Build a collegial relationship that will benefit the two of you and your students.

Do you have a question or comment about this article? E-mail Theresa.


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