Parapro at the “End-of-her-Rope!” Any comments?

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We received an email from a para who feels like she is at her wit’s end, with nowhere to go. She asked if we could help by posing her dilemma to our readers. With her permission, we posted the email below.

Do you have suggestions, advice, or solutions to share?

Para (or parent) – have you had the same feelings? Worried about your students? Concerns met with indifference? Afraid of retaliation?

I am a paraprofessional in a public school, supporting students on IEPs and 504s. I don’t have children, but I subscribe to your newsletter.

Along with my fellow paras, I’m often in turmoil about my students’ success…

Concerns about Mainstreaming

  • Quite often, teachers do not modify classwork and homework
  • Teachers assign readings far and above what my students can comprehend (let alone pronounce)
  • The only accommodation teachers follow is — move to a separate setting

What happens when we move to a separate setting?

I read to them, explain every other word, and basically, hold their Social Studies, Science, STEM, or ELA class.

Then, I can painstakingly help them, amidst their confusion and growing frustration, produce something of their own pertaining to the subject matter.

If you’re an 8th grader who’s just now understanding where North America resides on a globe, why would you be writing a five-paragraph essay about the socio-economic factors giving independence to the New England, Middle, and Southern European colonies?

Schools Do Not Follow IEPs

The school ends up whisking students along and giving them passing grades to make up for the fact they aren’t following the child’s IEP, and — to help keep parents at bay.

Students learn nothing. Teachers hope they’ll absorb some knowledge of the content area by simply attending the class.

Let me tell you: if I don’t yet know how to divide whole numbers, all the time in the world the class exposes me to Greek Astrophysics 101 isn’t going to do me any good comprehending Greek Astrophysics.

Special Needs Supervisor Says…

I’ve gone to my Special Needs supervisor about these classes. She’s far from a monster. But, her replies?

  • “Ummm … I don’t know”
  • “I don’t go to Social Studies/STEM/ELA/Science”
  • “Have you tried asking the teacher?”

The Teachers

Sometimes, I do ask the teachers. They are wonderful and drastically overworked individuals, whom I’ve grown to sympathize with more and more each year.

But, my kids pay the biggest price for their exhaustion!

Our teachers are wonderful educators, but, believe me, it’s made very clear by our administration that paras are just paras, and therefore, replaceable. When I can buck up the courage to ask our educators – sometimes I’m met with indifference.

Sometimes, I might get a hearty and sincere, “Thank you. I didn’t see that on his Accommodations Page.” Unfortunately, this is often followed by a “Feel free to make those modifications … whatever you think!”

But, mostly, it’s – “They’ll be fine.” “Whatever they get from it, that’s great!” “If they just follow along, I’ll accept whatever they write for an answer.”

Students on IEPs and 504s have the right to be held to expectations!

Students on IEPs and 504s have the right to be held accountable!

Students on IEPs and 504s have the right to receive and meet rigor!

Passing them along does no one any good.

I have nowhere to go. I feel very worried about retaliation of any kind – too many co-workers have paid the price – despite belonging to a union. I strongly feel my help belongs in public education; I want to find my career fulfillment in employment that benefits others, too.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Join the discussion in the comments below.

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Kim

Hi. I am working as a para and am also a mother of special needs child. I am tired of seeing accommodations that aren’t being used. I am speaking up and not getting good reactions. argh.

Chuck

At least you are trying. Good for you.

Mary

Please read the ruling in Endrew F. vs. Douglas County regarding a “de minis” education. Especially as it pertains to “Some” education versus “Meaningful” education. My experience has been that some administrators will simply fail to act until they are shown that doing so is a violation of Federal law (IDEA). You may even need to point out how this violation can jeopardize the school, faculty, and their own career. When you approach the school admin. make sure you are speaking from a place of concern that if the teachers aren’t able to provide the accommodations/modifications they could be putting themselves or the school at risk of possible legal conflict should a knowledgeable parent make a complaint to OCR.

HoosierSPED

Mom of kids with disabilities and special ed teacher here. Gen. Ed. teacher don’t accommodate and they won’t unless their feet are held to the fire. Also, full-inclusion sometimes just isn’t in the answer for some students. They need more specialized time with paras and teachers to get content. There’s so little compassion anymore. Gen. Ed. teachers have to teach to the state standards and are graded on how well their kids do on tests. The system is broken. It doesn’t work. I can never get the teachers to make accommodations or differentiate correctly. Not to mention caseloads are far too high. I had over 57 kids on my caseload last year. How can I possibly serve that many? This included 504s and ELLs. I had one para. Tell me that’s possible for 8th-grade content?

Colleen

As a mother of a 17-year-old son on the autism spectrum and as a para myself for the past 11 years, AND a paralegal, I totally get where you are coming from. In my experience, there’s something that many teachers are missing, as well as the administrators. I worked for several years with one teacher in particular who KNEW HOW TO USE HER PARA. This is a key thing that many teachers DO NOT know how to do and it goes beyond making copies and keeping kids awake and on task in class. Teachers need to learn to utilize their paras properly and FULLY! We can help modify curriculum, help teach in small groups, help lesson plan, etc. Teachers should be taking advantage of this valuable resource but many do not nor know how to sadly and it’s the students that pay the price.

Morning

I was a para and became very educated about special ed through Wrightslaw, advocacy and networking as my own kids needed advocacy. I resigned as a para to pursue advocacy for my kids during the most critical years. I saw first hand as a para that some kids are pushed along. Parents /guardians play a vital role. My kids and some great teachers needed my time, and I gained a higher level of knowledge and training. Parents have to make choices–my choice was to work with the school district and strategize and collaborate to ensure my kids progress. I have since changed careers. I am fulfilled but also know that no employment is perfect, but my impact is one person at a time. Schools need great paras and to utilize them effectively to ensure that students are making progress.

Peter

Stories like these are so disheartening. There seems to be this almost passive-aggressive approach to inclusion/LRE/mainstreaming in some districts. Maybe they think the USDoE will change their minds about LRE if enough children fail…I really hope not.

When it’s done with a person-centered philosophy, mainstreaming is hugely beneficial to children. These children go on to be successful contributing members of society having learned a lot of social norms and expectations from their peer interactions. All it takes is a little thought and creativity and students can have inclusion as well as special needs support – it doesn’t have to be all or nothing.

(Rant over) – Thanks to the original poster for speaking up…I hope you never quit fighting; these awesome children depend on you!

Nikki

Unfortunately inclusion assumes the Teacher is informed and wants the student in his/her class. This is not always the case and if no supervisor is willing to advocate (or afraid to ….retaliation happens) there is little the para can do to change the situation.

Morning

Nikki, you are correct. Some teachers, due to little or no support in the classroom from the administration, cannot accommodate special ed kids in their classes. I have seen the best “burn out” without the proper support and some become numb. The savvy teachers with power and tenure simply say “NO” to IEP students in their classrooms. IEP students are tracked away from their classes and the privileged students in the “no” classrooms continue on to enroll in honor classes, AP courses and special projects and opportunities. Some teachers are able to advocate for better support to service IEP students but it is not always easy to navigate. Some paras are change agents and will risk much to speak up and others take it one day at a time in the classroom.

Samantha

I understand where this person is coming from. I’m a parent of two boys with learning disabilities, both on IEPs. I also have the unique perspective of also being a para for reading intervention at the 1st-3rd grade level. I only started in that position after my children were past those grades in school though I wish I’d started sooner as I could have spotted these deficits in intervention for my boys. This deficit in appropriate intervention didn’t become apparent till my oldest entered middle school where following IEPs and giving quality intervention is practically nonexistent. My son is failing every class and the school is doing nothing to help him. I’m in the process of pulling him to homeschool. They cannot meet his needs and his confidence has plummeted.

Myeve

The School district has tricked and manipulated us for years without feeling any responsibility to the children who they are ultimately hurting. I’m tired of being victimized by them and for the first time in 8 years am looking to hold them accountable