Saturday, September 5, 2009

Working with others

One part of being a teacher of students with low incidence disabilities is working with others. Our classroom is not our kingdom--we have to share it with related service professionals, parents, peer buddies, and assistants.

I'd like to speak directly about my philosophy of working with assistants/paraprofessionals today. I can't imagine not working with another person in my classroom--it boggles my mind how other teachers do it. They have 20+ kids and just them. I have about 7-9 kids and at least one other person to help me. I've taught my low incidence students without an assistant before, and there was a huge difference. I've learned the value of a good assistant--they are irreplaceable. As a team, I can achieve so much more than if I were doing everything myself.

So here are my six main tenets of working with assistants:
  • Please and thank you will get you a long way. It costs you nothing to show your appreciation all year long by simply using these words!
  • Don't ask your assistants to do anything you wouldn't do yourself. I learned this one while I was student teaching, when the teacher said that she and I would go toilet the wheelchair bound student. I must have looked strangely at her and then she imparted the great truth upon me. Just because you have the title of teacher, it doesn't mean that you do things in your assistants' job descriptions. It goes a long way to show them that their work is essential and valuable to the classroom.
  • Every person who works in your classroom is valuable to should be treated as such. Ok, so this includes related service providers too, but just because someone lacks a formal education in education does not mean that they do not have valuable ideas and experiences from their life.
  • Every adult in the room is a teacher. Students know the heirarchy of a room and will try to get away with poor behavior because they think an assistant is "just an assistant". I expect that my assistants will back me up when I make decisions regarding behaviors and if they assign consequences or homework or what have you, I will back them up. I don't want my students to learn that they only need to behave for me. They need to learn how to perform for many different people, as they will have to do when they leave the academic setting. The only exception to this rule would be a safety issue--allergies, specific diets, etc.
  • Praise in public, repremand in private. Not that I'm going to "repremand" someone but if I have comments that are not positive about an assistant, I'm going to make sure to do it a)once the kids have left and b)in private. No one likes to be called out in front of their peers--it's just not cool--and in front of the students that they are supposed to be teaching--even worse. But if I need to talk to someone about how they are reacting to behaviors or keeping their cell phone off or away, I'm going to do it once the kids leave and in private. Unless of course there was a safety issue involved, then I'd have to handle the situation immediately, but there are ways of doing this without blaming a person.
  • Ultimately, I am the teacher and have the final say in academic and behavioral planning/decisions but I am not the only person who has observations and ideas. This sounds a little harsh, so let me explain. Yes, I will be the one held responsible for grading, IEPs, and dealing with parents but I am not the only one who works with the students in the classroom. I am only one person and see things one way. It is always helpful to have other sources of ideas, observations, and collaboration. (That's part of the reason why you are here, right?) Also, we all know that kids perform differently for different adults and ultimately, in the real world, it's not good enough.

This is my philosophy and I hope you can take some part of it with you as the new school year starts, because as High School Musical says, "we're all in this together..."


  1. Excellent advice as we start the school year! I depend so much on my paraprofessional and agree with everything you wrote. I am beginning the year with two new paras (out of three) and am doing my best to welcoming and to make our classroom a place to which they want to come each day.
    Here's to a great school year!

  2. Over the 30 years of teaching special ed, I always felt like working with a paraprofessional is a lot like a marriage. Communication and respect are the keys to a long lasting relationship. Many things my students did were a lot like my own children acted with my husband and me at home. They would try to divide and conquer but just like at home, my parapro and I were always prepared. Just like my husband would tell my kids that they better behave and do what I said, I would tell my students the same thing as I left for meetings or if I was absent. They knew there would be repercussions when I returned if they treated my parapro with little respect. Usually every day we would discuss our day and share what worked or didn't. This was extremely helpful for me when planning lessons. I found it also helpful when I saw that my parapro could sometimes reach a specific student better than I could and the same for me. Most important of all, we watched each other's back. If I had a problem with something the parapro did, I dealt with it myself. I didn't complain to others or talk behind their back, we talked it out and resolved the issue (just like you should do in a marriage). I thought you gave great advice!