Paraeducator Role in the Inclusive Classroom
Therefore, para may be considered to be an essential component of free appropriate education (FAPE) which every student with disabilities is entitled to receive (Etscheidt, 2005). Over the past decade, the use of paraeducators has increased as the number of students with severe disabilities who have been included in general education classes has risen. Many teachers see the paraeducator as essential support required for the student to experience successful inclusion (Giangreco, 2003; Giangreco & Doyle, 2002).
Paraeducators are referred to in many ways: one-on-one, paraprofessional, additional adult assistant (AAA), teacher’s assistant, paraeducator, aide, individual assistant. Regardless of title, these individuals have become an important part of our schools (Giangreco, Edelman & Broar, 2001), helping the classroom teachers and providing more individual assistance to students. For the purpose of this paper, the term para will be used. Students with disabilities who are included in general education classes continue to receive special education instruction from a special education teacher.
However, now the special education teacher no longer spends time with the student every day of every week. It is now the general education teacher who spends most of the day with the student, along with 20-30 other students in the class. The general education teacher often has little if any special education training and therefore, paraeducators often spend most of their day with the student, and therefore, is often viewed as the person responsible for the student’s success and failures.
There have been many inconsistencies as to the nature of the role, duties and responsibilities of paraeducators (Etscheidt, 2005) in the inclusive class. This paper will address the confusion surrounding what the paraeducator’s role should be in an inclusive classroom, as addressed by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and as perceived by professionals and parents who support students with disabilities. Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and the Paraeducator
In 1982, in Hendrick Hudson District Board of Education v. Rowley, the Supreme Court defined appropriate education as providing students with disabilities with “access to specialized instruction and related services which are individually designed to provide educational benefit” (p. 3048). As the years progressed, the definition was expanded and describes educational benefit as being not only academic but also including non-academic benefit such as socialization and self-esteem issues (Etscheidt, 2005).
Both IDEA 1997 and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA) 2004 discuss the role of the paraeducator in a very general, non-specific manner. Under personnel standards, IDEA 1997 states: “Allow paraprofessionals and assistants who are appropriately trained and supervised, in accordance with State law, regulations, or written policy, in meeting the requirements of this part to be used to assist in the provision of special education and related services to children with disabilities under this part”. 20 U. S. C. ???? 1412(a)(15)(B)(iii) (Giangreco & Doyle, 2002) It then continues and specifies: “persons who work directly under the supervision of licensed professionals and who often deliver instructional and direct services to students and their parents” (GESSLER WERTS, ET AL. , 2004, p. 232). The roles of the para described in the law vary somewhat and only state that they should assist in providing all services, and that they should be trained and supervised by qualified professionals (Giangreco, 2003) IDEIA 004 does not define the paraeducator’s role clearly either. It describes the role as “assisting in the provision of special education and related services”……….. [[Page 118-119 STAT. 2686]] although IDIEA 2004 continues and states that among other things, the education system should also include : “(8) A comprehensive system of personnel development, including the training of paraprofessionals and the training of primary referral sources with respect to the basic components of early intervention services available in the State that— (A) shall include- i) implementing innovative strategies and activities for the recruitment and retention of early education service providers; (ii) promoting the preparation of early intervention providers who are fully and appropriately qualified” (IDEIA ’04) These definitions raise a number of questions, such as who do they assist – students or the personnel? It seems that there are no boundaries in the law explaining what paraeducators can do. Many students with severe disabilities also have health-care needs.
Does this also fall within the domain of the paraeducator’s responsibility? We can often find (write formally 3rd person – not 1st) paraeducators fulfilling various roles which may include: clerical tasks – copying, cutting out, prepping materials; instructional tasks – tutoring, helping with assignments, following-up instruction; personal care tasks; teaching social skills; facilitate peer interactions; managing student’s behavior, etc. (GIANGRECO, YUAN, MCKENZIE, CAMERON & FIALKA, 2005 ). What is the Role of the Paraeducator? add more of your self, what do I know, and then support it with references) Paraeducators, teachers, and administrative personnel agree that the teachers carry the responsibility for instruction and academic planning
General education teachers, parents, administrative personnel and even paraeducators have different views as to what the paraeducator’s role should include in the inclusive classroom. Paraeducators’ Views Paraeducators are often the main support for students with disabilities in an inclusive classroom, working under the supervision of the classroom teacher, and sometimes also helping others in the classroom (GESSLER WERTS, ET AL. , 2004). In a study conducted by Marks, et al. 999, four main reasons were given by paraeducators as to why they feel that they are needed in the general education classrooms: (1) To make sure the student is not a burden on the teacher – some paraeducator felt that their performance is judged on the basis of how much they can help the teachers, how successful they are in keeping the student out of the teacher’s way, thereby making sure that he/she is not a burden on the teacher, and making sure that the student’s behavior is under control so that they do not cause a disturbance in the class. 2) To meet the student’s academic needs – the role of many paraeducators seems to take the form of a tutor, of taking responsibility for modifications. Many have said that it is easier to prepare the materials themselves rather than keep after the teachers to prepare them. (3) To serve as a channel for communication between the staff of the school, the student, additional supports and their family – Many paraeducators reported that since they were the one person who was with the student all day, teachers and parents would often pass messages to each other through the paraeducator.
This is despite the fact that paraeducators are not responsible for updating the parents or other professionals about the student (GESSLER WERTS, ET AL. , 2004). Almost 1 out of every 4 paraeducators reported that they were in charge of transmitting information to parents (French, 2001), and many of the paraeducators find that they are the principal contact between students with disabilities and their peers and teachers in inclusive settings, as well as being the main adult with which the students with disabilities come in contact with (Young & Simpson, 1997 ). 4) To represent successful inclusion – paraeducators often find themselves with the sentiment that they have to advocate inclusion and to defend their students and their placement in general education. Many paraeducators reported that they assume the role of being responsible for the academic and behavioral needs of students with disabilities in a general education setting simply in order to make sure that both the teachers and students have a positive experience (Etscheidt, 2005).
While all paraeducators are in agreement that their support is essential for providing access to the curriculum for many students while helping the teacher (Giangreco, 2003), many of them reported that they are often confused about what the general education teachers expect from them (Wadsworth & Knight, 1996). This feeling is especially prevalent in middle and high school, where students have different teachers for different subjects.
The literature shows that paraeducators often assume a variety of roles: academic and social skills instruction; modifications; managing the student’s behavior; developing working relationships with others (Marks, et al. 1999) (Young & Simpson, 1997 ) (Giangreco & Doyle, 2002) (Etscheidt, 2005); providing individual/personal attention, taking exclusive responsibility for them; lunchroom, bus and playground (unstructured activities) supervision (FRENCH, 2001); Paraeducators are also responsible for students’ safety.