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Old 07-05-2008, 07:35 AM
 
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Hello- I already posted this under first year teachers bulletin but I just found this Sp-ed bulletin board so I am reposting to see if I get more responses! Thanks!

This will be my first full year as a special ed teacher in a self contained classroom. I worked in the same classroom for a half year last year as an interim teacher so I am familiar with the kids/staff. It is 5 Kids (PDD/ DD) and 3 paras. I have a really challenging group of kids, who I love dearly. I love my paras dearly as well- they're hardworking and have grea ideas. Last year went really well but was stressful for me because
1. The paras in the class were in place before I joined so they knew the kids better then me and actually taught me how to work with them and the routines.
2. My paras are GREAT but all really outgoing personalities, where as I am very quiet and laidback so it was hard for me to have the final say
3. The paras had great ideas but sometimes would try new things without my ok...sometimes they worked great and sometimes they didnt, but it was hard for me to step in because i am so quiet and nonconfrontational
4. My paras tended to do FOR the kids instead of assist them in learning, mostly because they were trying to be helpful to ME i think

I passed out memos and tried to have meetings all year reminding people in general about the kids independence and other things. My paras were all really receptive to the ideas- but usually would fall back into their own routines.

I want this year to go smoothly so I am looking for ideas on how other teachers set up their classroom for paras and organize their duties, etc. Thanks!

Stephanie


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Old 07-05-2008, 08:19 AM
 
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Yeah, Steph, that's a tough situation to be in I'm sure. I've been where you have been regarding the learned helplessness thing. Basically, the way I handled it was this:

I sat down with my paras and explained that if they are doing their jobs correctly that they should slowly be working themselves out of a job so to speak. As time goes on, it is our job to make the kids less and less dependent on us to do certain things. I also stated that I don't expect them to be able to read my mind, so I may tell them at certain times to back off helping the kids in certain situations. I made sure they understood that they shouldn't take it personally. It may take a child twice as long to do something alone, but we need to give them that time in order for them to be independent.

So, for example, my big peeve with my attendants was first thing in the morning and at the end of the day. They were constantly getting things out of the kids' bookbags, helping them get coats on/off etc. etc. If a para was helping where they shouldn't, I'd just say, "Let's see how he/she deals with this on their own.", or "Ms. Jones, I'd like Johnny to do that independently please."

Even with this approach you're going to get some people who take offense and think their way is the right way. I've had that too. I basically have to come to the point where I say, "Listen, I understand that you want to help, but there are some things that I don't want you assisting the kids with."

The bottom line is that you have to have an understanding of how things work in the classroom. Everyone needs to know their roles. They need to understand that their main role is to be an extension of yourself when YOU see fit. Ultimately, you are the one who is responsible for the education of each child, not them. If you set guidelines as to where and when people are in charge, things go a lot smoother.

For example, my main para knows what times of the day I will be directing her, what times she needs to hang back and do nothing, and what times of the day she is totally in charge (and thus, I will not interfere unless absolutely necessary). I make out a daily list for her to let her know for who,what and when I will need her help that day.

So, a typical day's responsibilities may go like this:

1. Come in, put book bags, coats away. (para hangs back)
2. Lit block time (I have a schedule of what she is to do and with whom. Sometimes I direct her to help a student if needed. During this time she has small groups that are totally under her control)
3. lunch/lunch recess- they are totally under her control
4. specials- she is to assist the specials teachers as needed
5. writing- I tell her who she is to help one on one
6. math groups- she has a small group under her control
7. craft time- whole class her control, I help as needed.
8. get ready to go home- (para hangs back)

Hope this helps!
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Old 07-05-2008, 11:32 AM
 
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I had the best parapro this year. She would jump in whenever she saw a need. She always ask permission if she saw something that would help me out. She was so gently with the kids and worked so very well. They closed my sped class down because of low numbers, but because a sped child was put in my classroom she was able to come with me. I shared her with the other ECDD classrooms and she was a tremedouse help for me and them. It was the best experience I have ever had with a parapro. I asked that she come with me wherever I go, but the person's class I'm taking over this fall had a great parapro in it as well and the principal felt she should be able to stay in that classroom and work with me. I will miss Sherry terribly, but know that Deborah will work very well with me and I should have a great year next year, too.
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Welcome Steph!
Old 07-05-2008, 02:47 PM
 
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Good luck to you! I am about to begin my second year teaching Special Ed. this fall. Previously, I taught LAP/Title for almost 12 yrs. I didn't begin teaching until my kids were in school, so I am not a spring chicken, but I am new to SPED...so far so good, but I have many issues and concerns--one being the subject of your post!

Speced9 had some great advice, as usual. I have had a lot of trouble with my part time para this past year. SO much in fact, that I ended up taking the problem to my principal and I wrote some goals that she needed to meet by the end of the year. In my eyes, she did not meet them, but the principal said that we needed to work with her longer...she is very inexperienced...and the things she needs to work on are very important areas for me...where there is no room for mistakes (talking to parents w/o my permission (about their students' programs), stepping in when I am deescalating or disciplining a student, being extremely passive aggressive with me...smiling and saying she gets it when we meet and then talking about me with my other para...telling her that I am not making things clear or explaining...the list could go on) as well as many other areas.

I did sit my paras down first thing in the fall and told them that I am new to SPED and to be patient with me and give me some time. I asked them to understand when I changed my mind with something or changed things frequently. For the most part, my almost full time para was good about this and helped me quite a bit. Everyone has their opinion (and I know at times she did not agree with me) but a good para knows that even though they may not agree, that the teacher has the training and experience and they need to do what is asked and work as a productive team for the kids. I'm sure...as in my case with my good para....that maybe the previous teacher in your position relied on your paras almost too much. She/he may have given your paras very loose reigns for deciding how to go about working with the kids. That is what I am finding....this seems to be very common in our district. The teacher is very overwhelmed (we tend to have very large caseloads in our district--I had 30 at one point--from K-4th grade---I held steady in the high 20's most of the year) and lets the para do his/her own thing.

I'm going on and on, but I agree with Speced about sitting down with them and being honest. Be organized and give them a daily schedule and include how much they are supposed to be 'helping' with, as he suggests and also have frequent meetings to touch base on these things. Keep communication open as much as possible. DON'T let them make you believe that they know better than you do, what is best for the students. You sound very nice and non-confrontational. That is great, but don't let them have too much power--even though it does sound like their problem is mainly bad habit--tell them that you are bound to change things up as you go...and they'll need to be flexible---which is MANDATORY in any good special ed. program.

Again, good luck. I look forward to seeing how you are doing with this in the future. Maybe you'll have some ideas for ME!!
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Old 07-05-2008, 04:20 PM
 
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<<I asked them to understand when I changed my mind with something or changed things frequently.>>

That's a very good point, newspedteach. Routines and procedures SHOULD be in a constant state of change in some areas. If they're not, it means that progress isn't being made by the students and/or we as teachers aren't working on different ways to approach the same goals. That's hard for some paras I've found. A lot of times, they want their job to be predictable, but it's just not possible in the world of special education.

I hope all of this advice helps you StephTeach! Please let us know in the future how things go. We're here for support!


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Old 07-05-2008, 05:47 PM
 
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Thanks for all the insights and replies so far- You were right that the paras had very losse reigns. The classroom was actually teacherless for the first few months of the school year (no one else wanted the room because the students are very challenging) so the director was actually the "part time teacher" but basically the paras had to run the class...which I commend them for because it is a REALLY difficult class. So coming in the middle of the year was really hard for me!!! I do have daily schedules telling each para which child they are working with during each half hour block (we have to change every half hour because of the many difficult behaviors and aggressiveness)...I also had to add a "backup" person on deck for each half hour block in case an escort/restraint is needed. But I am definitely going to add in how much help should be given to the students during activities...thats a great idea! Any other ideas??
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Old 07-06-2008, 08:01 AM
 
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"The classroom was actually teacherless for the first few months of the school year (no one else wanted the room because the students are very challenging) so the director was actually the "part time teacher" but basically the paras had to run the class..."

Well, this makes perfect sense then. I hope with your guidance that your paras will soon get more in the habit of checking with you. Sounds like there is a good chance for that

Thanks Speced9---I often ask myself why anyone goes into the wonderful world of special ed. if they don't like change While we want our kids to have predictable schedules and routines, we HAVE to constantly be changing and tweaking things behind the scenes. It is hard for people who need time to adjust or people (like my pt. time para) who simply cannot multi task or think ahead.

Stephanie, as to more suggestions, I think the fact that you are starting out the year there...fresh in the fall...will be huge. Also, you are teaching in a self-contained classroom, which is very different from my classroom (resource room) but we do have some things in common. Speced9 had some great advice for getting started on another thread on this board...try looking there. I think he also offered another poster some forms as well...maybe these would help you.

Also, last summer at this time, I was buying out Amazon--looking for books to help me get organzied as a special ed. teacher. While one book did help some, the rest did not because MY situation is completely different that a resource room teacher's situation in CA or any other state or district. The best advice I got was when I went to my fellow special ed. teachers and asked them to give me some advice on setting up. I had a teacher (friend of a friend) take time out of her week and stop by after school to show me how she kept track of goals. I ended up tweaking this (twice) to better fit MY program. I also tried to meet with some of them during the year (I always made a rough agenda ahead of time) to get some questions answered and even just to vent/problem solve a bit about any pressing issue. Our district requires time outside the school day to collaborate, so this is what I used the time doing. I would be happy to send you my goal forms, but I have a feeling that you will be working on completely different things. I found that people could give me all the great advice in the world, but it had to be workable for me...and easy to do in a busy, crazy resource room.

I do have one piece of advice that I can think of now. If your students will be included in the general ed. classrooms at some times of the day (I assume they will) be sure to touch base with those teachers early on to form schedules. My situation is very different, but I found that KEY to making the year much smoother. I also tried hard to keep communication open with them....and I advocated (carefully) for my students all year...so that these teachers would see my/their students as a part of their classrooms.

OH, also---as a part of the plan I had to make for my problem para--I created a feedback form for both of my paras to fill out at the end of the year. This was not evaluative of ME, rather valuable feedback that they could give me on how they thought the year went and what I could do to make next year better. I told them up front that the goal was for all of us to do the best job for the kids (in other words, the goal wasn't necessarily to make it easier on them--although I did want them to know I was trying not to make it hard on them!). I am going to sit down with them in September and go over these forms--after carefully reviewing them and taking their comments into consideration--and coming up with a draft schedule based on their feedback. HERE'S the kicker. My main (good) para did fill it out and did a good job of being honest...I will use her feedback well. The problem one did not. More documentation for me. That is my last piece of advice for now---sounds like your paras are pretty good--but if attitude should get in the way of job performance (them thinking they know better than you) then be sure to document. It's so easy to get busy and say you'll do it later. I had to do it that day or I'd forget details. I keep a word doc. on my desktop and save it as doc. for assistant and add to it...making sure to supply dates. If you ever have to go to your principal or director, you'll need it.

I've rambled enough. Hopefully someone else will have some good ideas for you to implement in a self-contained classroom. I need all the help I can get as well, so I'll be looking for advice from other posters.

Last edited by newspedteach; 07-06-2008 at 08:11 AM.. Reason: added something
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Old 07-07-2008, 09:25 AM
 
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Hi Steph!

I found a website that might be useful to you for the school year.

http://successfulteaching.blogspot.c...educators.html

~KJ
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Old 07-07-2008, 10:49 AM
 
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<<I found a website that might be useful to you for the school year.

http://successfulteaching.blogspot.c.. .educators.html>>


Interesting article and responses to it. I was particularly interested in the thoughts about paras being an equal to the teacher. I'm not one that believes that and here's why-

First and foremost, when it comes down to it, the teacher is the person solely responsible for the children in that classroom. We are the ones who create, implement and evaluate each child's program. If something goes wrong in that process, it's not the paras butt on the line. Personally, I am all about sharing the successes in my classroom with my para. Many, many things would not come to be without her help, so all of my successes are hers as well. On the flip side, if there is not progress, it's all my fault. I readily accept that because I am the person who is responsible for maintaining a program that should result in positive progress.

Second, there's the aspect of education and training. Like it, or not, I am more qualified than my para. I went to college and earned a BA and an MA. I go to many more workshops than she will ever go to.
Her background is a high school diploma and the ability to pass a basic skills test at the very least. True, there are some paras who might have the same background as me educationally, but I still have to give myself the edge because I have spent 20+ years as the manager of a classroom.

This isn't a power trip. To me it's just a definition of roles. I see my para as an instrument to use in my classroom. I don't expect her to understand every thing I am thinking, planning or implementing day after day. As long as we keep the lines of communication open, and she follows my lead, things run smoothly. It's only when people step out of their roles that things get complicated. When she is doing something with a small group, or the whole class for that matter, it's her dance. I don't step in. I only expect her to follow the procedures that we have discussed before. The same goes with her- I don't expect her to step into my responsibilities when I am doing my thing. I expect her to work along with me and be there when I need her.

So, while I don't consider her my equal, I do consider her a very important part of my program. It's very similar to the relationship I have with the building principal. I'm not her equal. I don't expect to be able to change things school-wide like she can. I understand my role within the school as a whole. To my principal, I am one of many tools that she can use to make her school successful. If things are going great school wide, I share in that success. If things are going horribly wrong, I'm not the one who will be sitting in the superintendent's office getting an earful- and I'm happy for that!

Last edited by Speced9; 07-07-2008 at 07:34 PM..
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I totally agree
Old 07-08-2008, 01:22 PM
 
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and I couldn't have expressed it better....good point especially that while my paras should definitely be applauded when things are going well and there is progress made, they certainly don't receive any type of reprimand when progress is not made.

I was a para myself for about 12 yrs....longer than I've been teaching! I certainly didn't go back to school and receive two endorsements to be on the same level I was as a para. I must say I was a bit stunned at the replies on that blog!


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Old 07-08-2008, 08:11 PM
 
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I am also a new beginning teacher like yourself and you have had some great advice. I would suggest that once you have had this meeting with your assitants and decided on the duties that you would like them to assist with, that you make a table and display it in the classroom. I was an assitant for 6 years and understand the frustration of incompetence. If it is displayed in a table format no-one can slack off and areas of need are clearly defined.

I have to agree with Speed9 at the end of the day you are responsible for the students in the classroom not the assitants.
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Old 07-09-2008, 06:22 PM
 
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Thanks guys for all the ideas and comments- its really helping me a lot. The article was really interesting-it gave me a good perspective, although I guess I interpreted it differently than some people as I didnt find it condescending at all. I think its important to respect parapros (I was one for the past 5 years before teaching) but its a great point that they are not equal to the teacher because why else would teachers go to school and spend all the extra time, money, and effort. My paras have so many great ideas, but when it comes down to it- I'm the one who has to take responsibility for a lack of progress being made.

One thing I have found with some of my favorite teachers to work with, is that they would never ask me to do something that they themselves wouldnt do. As a para, I may have done more toileting during the day than the teacher did- just like my paras now probably do more toileting and changing of diapers than I do, while I am busy with other duties. However, I still make sure that I am in there changing diapers everyday. Its part of my job and I make sure that I never treat my paras with an attitude that its their job to take care of the messy/less glorious tasks. Same with the teacher I worked with for 4 years. As her para, I would do anything she asked without hesitation because I know that she would never ask me to do something, that she herself wouldnt do. She wouldnt ask me to change diapers because she was above it, but simply because she was too busy at the moment. I think part of respecting your staff is taking your share of the "dirty work"
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Absolutely!
Old 07-10-2008, 06:08 AM
 
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Stephanie,

I agree 100%!!!! That's a really good 'rule' to live by too....

My problem is: my paras (even the 'good' one, ) think it is not "their job" or "what they signed up for" when it's time to do some 'dirty work'...for example, I had a little student this past year who messed his pants almost daily for awhile. I am in a resource room, so this isn't the norm, but the circumstances in which he did it made sense--he was not in the appropriate placement (gen. ed classroom for almost all of his day) and couldn't do the work, etc. He also had mild CP, which contributed...then, we found out that he'd never fully been potty trained (mom neglected to let us in on that one!). Anyway, my assistants told me upfront that they would not/could not change him...they didn't want to get "sued" (their words) by parents down the road (they listened to horror stories on the news)....I told my good para that she would HAVE to do it if I should happen to be out that day and it happened. I had the mom and dad sign a form giving their permission for any member of the sped team to change him. They were of course, fine about it....I saw it as the paras taking a stand that they weren't going to get their hands dirty (literally, lol).

I guess, thinking on this....the only thing I do ask mine to do that I seldom do, is recess monitoring of some students with behavior problems. The reason is...this is usually the time I am teaching (ONE 10 min. recess per day) math to several grade levels. Also both paras have a.m. recess duty before school for the entire primary student body and are paid extra time for that out of gen ed funds, so they are out there anyway.

Oh, another thing I ask them to do that I don't regularly do is monitor some of 'our' kids in their gen. ed. classes....this is never longer than 10-15 min....for example, we have a student with sig. behavior problems who needs monitoring/guiding while lining up to go home, etc. My para has time to do this, while I am in my classroom teaching math to other kids. The para does not have a problem with this and would rather be doing this than teaching math, .

It's a good reminder to me, though....and part of the reason why I gave them those feedback forms in May to fill out. That way, I know if I'm asking something of them that they think is unfair. Some things might not be able to be changed, but it gives me their perspective.

Last edited by newspedteach; 07-10-2008 at 06:14 AM.. Reason: added
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Old 07-20-2008, 01:13 PM
 
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In our district, we do have a binder for all paras (middle school). It outlines the job duties and what they should do, and what the teacher should do. In our schools, they don't have any training, so its hit or miss, meaning that usually they have a lot of common sense as to how to help and take direction really well. I don't know if they actually read the binder. We have great ones, and of course the ones that you have to tell over and over again what is expected. For the most part, we have great ones, and they are worth far more than the pittance that they are paid.
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Old 07-20-2008, 04:05 PM
 
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Great post, Peanut. If by chance they have that info in a Word document, could you post it later? I'm sure a lot of us would be interested in seeing it.
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Looking at her responsibilities
Old 07-22-2008, 09:39 PM
 
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From the looks of the typical day's schedule, she does as much if not more than you do.

How can you expect her to "work herself out of a job so to speak"?
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Old 07-23-2008, 10:24 AM
 
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Well, in theory she should be working herself out of a job, but in reality, there will always be things to do. My point was that a child that needs one on one attention at the beginning of the school year more than likely will not need that attention by the end of the school. In other words, a para may be doing one thing at the beginning of the year and something totally different by the end.

As far as her doing as much or more than I do. That's kind of an "apples and oranges" statement. If you're going by time with student contact, yes, she spends more time with kids than me because I'm prepping when she is with the kids during lunch and specials. When you look at it as far as intensity goes, I am obviously doing more things instructional than my para does.

Hope that explanation helps.
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Old 07-23-2008, 03:38 PM
 
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In my position, I'm expected to do everything the teacher does with the one exception of IEPs & testing. I have set times that I'm on my own to plan activities for the entire class, in addition to running 2 groups a day. I'm just as responsible for discipline & classroom management, and its expected. I have enormous input, and I'm treated as an equal to the teacher in the classroom with the children. I don't have any say as far as talking to parents or administration, and frankly I'm fine with that.

If they ASK me to do something, I do it. The teachers that TELL the paras to do something lose their help pretty quickly.
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Old 07-23-2008, 05:12 PM
 
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Wow. You're definitely an overachiever in terms of expectations. If you don't have the credentials for certification, I'd suggest that you get them. It's a shame that you are expected to perform like a teacher but get paid like a para.

I don't know what to say about your last comment other than that the average special ed. para in my district doesn't come close to your abilities, and therefore, must be instructed to do things. In other words, they have a very different role than you do. Also, it's not like I say something like, "Go help Johnny!". It's always in a professional way like, "Ms. Jones, I need you to help out Johnny.", or "Mrs. Jones, could you help Johnny out with this?".
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Old 07-23-2008, 05:48 PM
 
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The tone of my responses are very rude. I'll lighten up.

There is classroom management & communication training involved as well as certification in crisis management, de-escaltion & restraining techniques. I don't know that any paras in this state are required to be "certified". I've never even heard of a certification program. The pay is good for what the job entails and the field is competitive. However I have been told that there are many "bad" paras in the special ed system in our district. I should mention that my children attend the school I work at, but they are in mainstream classrooms. I never even intended to work in special ed... it just worked out that way. I can't imagine ever leaving it.
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Old 07-23-2008, 07:14 PM
 
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No problem. We're all here to discuss differences of opinions etc. etc. I find the para debates very interesting in that abilities, responsibilities, expectations and training are so different from school to school, district to district and state to state.

Written responses are hard to gage sometimes. What may be written with a polite tone may be perceived differently and vice versa. So, I didn't take your responses as rude, just as coming from a person who felt strongly about a certain subject. No harm done.
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