Throughout my school years, I had lots of support from Paraprofessionals/Teacher Assistants. If it wasn’t for their direct impact on me as a learner and individual, I would not have done as successful with my education. I never thought in my mind that I would get to make a direct impact on lives of students now myself. This student has become a a professional, a Paraprofessional!
There is a lot that comes into the role as a Paraprofessional, even though people may think it is not a hardworking job. A Paraprofessional’s workload is just as much as a Teacher’s workload, especially in our education system nowadays. Here are some of my responsibilities as a Paraprofessional in the education field: I assist and support the teacher’s teaching methods and techniques in the classroom. For example, I would implement their lesson plans with a small group of students or one to one, like by modifying the assignments or communication of teacher’s instructions for more attention. Plus, I work directly with students, especially based on their needs; I get to learn and support students on their lifelong journey as individuals. For instance, if a student has social-emotional skill goals to accomplish from their Individualized Education Plan (IEP), I would make sure to help the student grow and accomplish their goals through social situations that occur within the school and classroom, and provide reinforcements and consequences. Part of this comes through data collection as well; I record and reflect on progress of the student’s individual goals. In addition, I communicate progress about students with the classroom teacher, the school’s child study team (CST), special education supervisor, and principal. I communicate with the rest of the school community as well: the students’ parents, related services staff (Occupational Therapists, Physical Therapists, Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) Therapists, Guidance Counselors, School Psychologists, and etc.). Ongoing communication is key in this role because no one will grow without letting others know what is happening to the students in the classroom. It takes a community to impact one individual!
The biggest lesson I’ve learned in this role so far is that my mind has to be in the students’ shoes to understand where they are coming from. For example, I observe how they are able to learn n the classroom, and take in knowledge of their behaviors in the classroom because it could come from the home environment. I have to observe and experiment to understand the students’ learning style and what they are capable of learning. This demonstrates that I am always willing to be a life-longer learner, and this is the best part of being an Paraprofessional; Paraprofessionals, just like teachers, are always questioning and reflecting on classroom experiences to support and help students grow as citizens. Once I know about the students more, I automatically click with them, and it becomes more interesting to help and watch the students grow.
I will now share specifically about the job I did this summer because it was my first job in an actual classroom, coming right out from college. I worked as a Special Education Paraprofessional Aide for an extended school year program in the town next from my town. I was assigned to work in a self-contain classroom that used the Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) program, and there were five students in the class in total. In examples of my experiences, I will say student number one, two, three, and etc, to demonstrate about each kind of student I worked with in the classroom. It was very interesting to know and learn that all of the students I worked with, live with various forms of Autism. This was very interesting to me because since living with Autism myself, I can understand from all parts of the Autism Spectrum: delayed language development and lack of skills (social-emotional, cognitive, etc.), to fully developed language and increased growth of skills (independent life skills, increased self-control of behaviors and emotions, etc.). I will say that there are lots of benefits from knowing what it is like living from one side of the spectrum to the other, because I saw how much it helped and supported the students’ needs in the classroom this summer.
Although, I’ve had to remind myself constantly that it is about the students’ needs, because they may not react to the same teaching techniques as were used on me as a child. I will say that this was so true! Based on living with Autism myself, and through gained knowledge of an ABA program, I quickly learned teaching methods to help my students and support their needs. For example, the first student was only able to say the words “Yes” and “No”; This student always pointed as their way of communicating what they wanted or needed. When I was 6 years old, I said my first word, which was the word, “No”. At that age, I knew that if I didn’t want something, I said the word, “No”. I continued to point at pictures and objects to communicate what I wanted or needed too. My point is that I understood where the student was coming from, so for this student, I worked with them on saying the name of the object or thing that they pointed to. For instance, if the student pointed to their water bottle when it was snack time, I told them to say “open”, since I knew they wanted to drink water.
Unlike the first student and during snack time, I learned the second student can communicate two-word sentences, so I work with this student on fully asking for help when opening their snacks. I tell them to tell me this sentence, but slowly, since slower process of information: “Open, Water, Please.” This would be the case for when this student said the word, “Water”, since I know they are thirsty. With the second student, I learned they knew what they wanted and needed, I just worked with them on fully communicating their sentences more. On the other hand, this student would go lay on the floor and kick whenever they refuse to communicate with me. I go back in my mind, knowing that they need some form of motivation to communicate more, such as playing with puzzles for this particular student. I always challenged the students to reach their full capabilities, and it takes time and practice for them to grow on their skills.
Furthermore, I communicated with the related services staff and the classroom teacher about the students. The related services staff in the extended school year program I worked for were Occupational Therapists, Physical Therapists, and Speech Therapists. For example, I had one day in which the Occupational Therapist asked me what motivates this student they were taking for their session to learn. I will say this is student number three as an example, since I mentioned I worked with five students in the classroom. I shared with them about that they love play dough, because this particular student loves to play, smell, and lick play dough. I learned from the teacher that this student is not easy to motivate to learn, cause that is mostly just part of their personality, since she had this student during in the school year. In a ABA program, individuals with Autism are motivated to learn by reinforcements, such as I shared about play dough as an reward. Students one and five worked around with a timer to receive reinforcement (ex: rewards) and the rest of them not. I can understand because I use to receive ABA therapy myself, and was always rewarded with M&Ms. One of the biggest lessons I learned about working with students with Autism was that everyone of them is different, since living at different parts of the spectrum. Just like how all students are unique individuals, it takes time and observations to learn what they are able to learn and to grow in and out of the classroom.
In all, I will never forget the experiences and memories that I created with that class. This job experience has helped me develop professionally as someone living with Autism, and learned that being a Paraprofessional is rewarding all the time, since milestones are accomplished together with the students and the school community. To all of the Paraprofessionals/Teacher Assistants I’ve had throughout my education, thank you for inspiring me to become one myself!