One of my strongest principles and beliefs is to support, cherish, and value the paraeducators we work with. After spending 10 years in a middle school special education classroom, it’s easy to say that paras are the foundation to our entire education system. Without them, kids in classrooms would struggle to understand key content, groups in the special education setting would be too large and unmanageable, teachers would have even bigger difficulties with classroom management, and many kids wouldn’t be able to access their least restrictive environment. Paraeducators make education work. And since it’s clear to say we’re just not paying them enough right now, the very least we can do as teachers is appreciate them for the love and support they bring every single day to our classrooms.
Here are 10 ways you can appreciate paraeducators in your classroom:
1. Introduce them. At the beginning of the year (or anytime when a para joins your class), take the time to introduce them to your students. Let the kids know who they are and how they will support everyone. Most importantly, set the tone that it’s important to give respect to the paraeducator just as you would to any teacher.
2. Treat them as an equal. Many paraeducators are highly educated and have countless years of experience in the classroom. Treat them just as you would any other teacher colleague. Not only can they tell, but the students you teach notice, too!
3. Say “thank you” at the end of the day. This is so important to me. Paraeducators work so hard every single day, and some days are especially tough. It’s such a small gesture but can mean a lot to just say “thank you”. Make it a habit at the end of every day.
4. Get to know to them. The school day is always crazy busy from start to finish, so it’s understandable that you don’t have a ton of time for small talk. Still, it’s important for you to get to know the paraeducator working in your classroom. Ask them about their family, inquire about their hobbies, and how their weekends were. Sometimes, I’ve learned helpful facts that can even help them bond with a particular student or reteach a certain subject. Not to mention, it’s important to just value them and let them know you do care.
5. Ask for their feedback (and value it). Remember when you have a paraeducator in your classroom, they are a second set of educator eyes watching how you teach and how the students are responding. Sometimes, there are things we just can’t see from the front of the classroom or while we’re leading a small group. Talk to the paraeducator in your room about what’s working and what could be improved. Ask for their feedback on future lessons and supports for the students, especially the ones with special education needs. Becoming a team with your paraeducators can truly help you become a better teacher!
6. Use the term paraeducator. Many use the term paraprofessional, which is also an appropriate term. To me, though, I like to highlight that they are not just an extra person in the classroom. Avoid using terms like aide and assistant. They are educators. Let’s call them one.
7. Buy them a coffee (or tea). At my last position, this became my Friday ritual. Trust me, the paraeducator I worked with truly deserved it and I loved being able to give her something small to look forward to each Friday. You don’t have to stick to every week or every other week. Even just a special treat out of the blue will show your gratitude. Get one for yourself, too, of course.
8. Write them a note. Everyone likes a kind note once in a while! Take a few minutes to write a kind note thanking your paraeducators and drop it in their mailbox or even their lunch bag. It’s just another small way to appreciate what they do every day.
9. Give them a break. If you notice that a paraeducator is having a tough day or struggling with a particular student or group, offer to switch off with them. Better yet, if you can, tell them to go get a coffee in the teacher’s lounge and take a few minutes to themselves.
10. Include them in the school community. Sometimes there are teacher gatherings after school or meetings that only teachers are invited to. Instead, start to adopt a culture where all educators are included and valued. This isn’t to say that paraeducators should be expected to attend extra meetings or PD opportunities, but they should at least be given the option.
How do you appreciate the paraeducators you work with? Let me know what you would add!