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.

  1. My daughter passed away in Dec 2019 so I am now raising my grandsons. The youngest recently turned 9 yrs old and is special needs. At first, I had to fight to get him an IEP and its been a fight at every turn. This past year after meetings where I refuse to accept their cheap shots at meetings, they have found that reporting a CPS complaint is a great retaliation. The first time broke my heart because I couldn’t imagine how they could think something along these lines. Each time I contact the team, they hide behind the “Mandated reporter” requirements. This last time, even the CPS worker was dumbfounded after she popped up at the home. They do what they want regardless of what is discussed at the IEP meetings and I’m so tired of this battle. I wonder what the goal is when I’m giving my all for my grandson. This is retaliation, plain and simple!
    I cant find an advocate in my zip code to help me, that I can afford and I cant afford to move. what advice would you give?

  2. Been fighting for an IEP for my twice exceptional daughter for almost 2 years and finally was granted an IEP but it wasn’t easy. When developing the IEP, she was given 15 minutes 4x a week in a group with others in her grade, but not in her magnet program(smartest kids in the district in a school with the lowest level learners) that can barely read. My daughter has a very high IQ and is having trouble with comprehension and inferencing, something that was said that these other students would never understand. I am tired, broke, and at a crossroads. We need to continue to fight for OT for weak hand and core and for pragmatic language and to get more than 3 lazy generalized goals that would be completed in 3 weeks. I am tired….looking for legal help to get this help outside of the school.

  3. Can they provide the reading via audio reader or audiobook? I would see if the district can provide you with that accommodation so the student can listen to the reading and stop it and answer questions when needed. This accommodation helps so many of my SPED students, who can’t fluently read but they can comprehend at a much higher level if they can listen to the text., or, or even audio reader set up on the computer settings. Chrome has one, and Microsoft 365 does as well and accounts for students and educators are free. Modifications should be made for mastery of concept instead of quantity completed on assignments. Also, no one said they couldn’t answer by typing on a google document to speed up the writing process.

  4. The special ed system in NC is broken and all those in it know that. There is no one who makes sure an IEP is implemented. It is a legal document but that does not matter as no one is held accountable. Parents of disabled kids need to get together and vote for those who will effect change. In our state there are 20k kids with IEP’s – my guess is that amounts to at least 50k voters who are impacted by a lack of progress for their kids and are tired of the lies. Unfortunately those educators who want to do what is right are afraid for their jobs because they have good reason to be. Districts use their tax payer paid lawyers to keep the status quo and fight any parent who dares to complain. The school board is usually represented by the same lawyers and DPI and OCR make zero impact.

  5. General ed. teacher here.

    I will say a lot of us aren’t trained deeply on how to modify, which seems to be the deeper issue here. I can talk to lots of people about accommodations, but students whose knowledge is significantly off from the assigned curriculum (for example, the basic division vs the Greek Astrophysics) is something that quite often our hands are tied concerning.

    This may make me the bad guy, but I seriously don’t have the knowledge to use the time to modify so drastically in a lesson that is supposed to be about Greek Astrophysics when I also must find a way to bring it down to someone who has yet to master division.

    • Thanks for your insight. As a former para, I found myself ( at times) caught between the General Ed teacher and special Ed teacher who were not collaborating to service the student(s). This lack of collaboration was due to many factors mostly that the teachers were overwhelmed, in meetings and had too many students on their caseloads. Many paras like me found ourselves researching and printing topic related coloring pages for the students to do to keep them quiet and occupied in the general Ed classes. We tried to include the students but needed more guidance and the system was broken. Some paras reported the issue but were targeted and some involuntarily transferred to other district schools. Some gen ed teachers tried to help but they had 20-40 students to manage.

      • I would love to see more collaboration! I’m at a very small school and, unfortunately, the Sped teacher is rarely on site.

  6. Is there a way to find a good school with good school culture and teachers who ARE willing to utilize paras correctly and allow IEP kids in their classrooms? Are there ANY good ones out there? I so desperatly want to hear a positive good story or outcome- I am about to give up in this 6 year battle and just when my son who is in 8th grade needs me the most to advocate for him.

    • Karen, don’t give up. Think outside the box. The process is hard to navigate. At your son’s age, one of the key factors is to involve him in the process and short and long term goal planning. I worked with advocacy groups OUTSIDE of the school district and discovered a wealth of resources that changed the trajectory for my then younger child who is now in college. Schools have budgets and agendas and older kids, in some districts, are pushed along and tracked in lower performing classrooms. My child and I collaborated with the system but were “out of box” thinkers during the process. Yes, we had some amazing teachers and administrators who helped us along the way. I have to give credit to them and my child for wanting more and striving towards that “more.”

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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?

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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!

  13. 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.

    • 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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

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