I thank the universe on a daily basis for my co-worker Matt. He was a late addition to our program, beginning his time with us just after February vacation. Matt transitioned seamlessly into our little world and it is never more apparent how much I depend on him than when he isn't here! He's been taken down with an illness today, and is currently being "quarantined" in the nurse's sick room. I find myself a bit lost with out his presence. It leads me to a constant conversation I have about the need for paraprofessionals and their importance in the classroom.
I do not like the term "para" professional. To me, it implies that an employee is less-than. The majority of para's, or aids, that I work with are extremely professional, sometimes more so than the teachers! Many of our aids are as educated as the teaching staff, and do just as much 1-1 and small group instruction. In our program, Matt's authority carries as much weight as mine, and he has his own responsibilities as well. He handles as many behavioral issues as I do, and the paperwork he manages can be overwhelming. I feel strongly that he is not paid nearly enough, given his day-to-day responsibilities. I also feel teachers deserve much more than we get, but that's a whole other topic!
There has been much discussion in my district lately surrounding paraprofessionals and their roles. Our collaborative has conducted focus groups in order to survey our perceptions of the paras and the responsibilities they have. I am interested to see what the outcomes will be. Will my district realize how necessary the aids are to our effective teaching? Will they decide they are under-utilized and remove more positions? With the state and federal budgets the way they are, I worry that the district will see aids as an easy cut. I hope this isn't the way, as I know how ineffective my program would be without a reliable, responsible aid along side me.