Job Title: Educational Paraprofessional
Type of Company: I work for a small school district near Lowell, Massachusetts.
Education: AS, English Consultation with experts in field of Autism and Applied Behavior Analysis Many courses, seminars and workshops related to Autism.
Previous Experience: I owned and operated a small school bus company for 11 years, which gave me some behavior management skills/practice. I've worked as a special education paraprofessional for 24 years and provided respite and home service hours for 10 years.
Job Tasks: I work with students who have difficulty accessing the curriculum, and who have behavioral issues. My job is to keep them safe, and on task, and to help them learn in ways that best suit them.
I use basic sign language for students that need it; I create materials for students who need visual supports (picture schedules, picture packs for vocabulary, photos of relevant staff members and peers, etc) and I step in to substitute for the classroom teacher when she is absent or at meetings. For home services, I work with children and parents to help parents understand and apply the methods used in their child's daily education. We go on trips in the community, or play with siblings, or cook, or try novel foods. (Some of my students have very limited food preferences, and building a program to help them expand their food experience and tolerance can be a challenge for Mom and Dad. An educational support can help.)
I also build and maintain relationships with my students' peers and help them do the same. Everybody benefits! Ordinary students learn the value of helping others and tolerance and acceptance, while my students learn incidental lessons from having friends that are interested in them and willing to help them. I also run discreet trials of learning programs and keep data on the students efforts.
Best and Worst Parts of the Job: The best part of the job is seeing your students succeed and triumph over tasks that were difficult. To see pride on the face of a child who knows that he or she has finally mastered something that has been a struggle, is incredibly rewarding for an educator.
The toughest part of the job for many paraprofessionals comes with dealing with tantrums or physical and verbal outbursts. A student may attack physically out of frustration, or mimic unkind verbal phrases that have been learned, and paraprofessionals need to recognize that the attack is not personal, and put into place the behavior plans that have been written and practiced for these instances.
1. Get as much education and understanding in the area of special education as you can.
2. Educate yourself for any specialty that you might like to pursue.
3. The army is wrong...THIS is the toughest job you'll ever love. Don't go into it if you are not tough, caring and have a lot of love and compassion to spare!
Additional Thoughts: I started out in this job as a sub for 2 weeks...and have been here for 24 years. I make a positive difference in the lives of students each and every day, sometimes by researching a method of presenting information in a new way, and sometimes by giving a compliment or a high five on the playground. It is rewarding to feel as though I'm giving back to a world that has been very good to me.
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