By Mary Winer
I interviewed several of my paraprofessional friends and asked them what they love most about their jobs.
The answer is clear. We work with children because we love them. We want to see them grow into responsible, caring, respectful and educated adults and we feel that we can give them an early foundation of structure and support to help them succeed
No child wants to feel alone, and it is often the paraprofessional rather than the classroom teacher who can take the time to get to know the child and help them while the teacher focuses on the necessary curriculum and explicit teaching that is required. I have always found this personal element to be very rewarding. If I can help a child calm down during a difficult time and let them know that there is someone who cares, that allows the teacher to continue with the lesson at hand. That is a valuable contribution!
Many paraprofessionals have college credits or completed a college degree and some continue with advanced degrees to become teachers. Many others stay as paraprofessionals, however, not because they do not want to become teachers, but because they love their role. Most of us lead instructional literacy and math groups on a daily basis and supervise the students when teachewrs are out of the room. We all love seeing the children progress academically, socially and emotionally. Most of the paraprofessionals I interviewed have over ten years experience and some have previously worked in such diverse fields as business, health care and private child care before transitioning to public education.
The teacher/paraprofessional relationship is often a subtle dance of give and take and positive collaboration. I feel lucky that I have worked with some exceptional teachers in my years of education and have learned from many of them. Many paraprofessionals have worked with the same teachers for multiple years. That engagement will not only provide a warm classroom experience for the children, but will promote a happy working environment overall.
A school community is comprised of a variety of staff members. The paraprofessionals who feel the most valued have administrators who recognize their importance, appreciate and support their work and promote a fun, yet educational learning environment. At my school, we work hard and still have fun. We are kept informed regarding school events and are always included in what is going on. There is no evidence of a teacher/paraprofessional segregation. We all work together and focus on the children. We have themed luncheons, a variety of contests, dress up for the holidays and generally enjoy each others company at work events and social gatherings. Most of the paraprofessionals I interviewed would like to have more work infused fun at their schools!
Paraprofessionals are some of the hardest working educators in schools today. We work side by side with classroom teachers, instruct small groups, and often interact with the children more than the teachers do. Many times paraprofessionals assist during lunch and recess time and only have their lunch break away from the children. We work hard for lower salaries and want to feel valued as educators. We wear many “hats” during the school day- nurturing children, acting as recess referees, psychologists, and competent educators. Every paraprofessional can add value to the classroom and enrich a child’s life.
We work with children because we love them and care about their future successes. The positive interactions we share with children may never be measured by the amount of salary we receive, but rather in the care and education we bestow upon our students. That is why we love our job!
Marcy Winer has been a paraprofessional in Lowell for over 10 years. She also is the founder of the literacy program Project DEAR (Facebook.com/ProjectDear).