Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Whose Work is This?

Look! I got my essay back! I got 100!” My fourth grader hurried to me, beaming, as I came in the room, waving his paper for me to see. We’d spent SO. MUCH. TIME. on this essay. I was a bit surprised that he’d gotten 100—expository writing is not a strength—but figured maybe the teacher took into account the amount of effort he’d put into it. I began to read the paper he handed me. This wasn’t his essay. This wasn’t his language. I asked my student who had helped him type it up, the one step I hadn’t been part of. He named the classroom aide, adding, “She kept saying it a different way and then she said, ‘is that what you meant to say?’ and I just said, ‘Yup’ and then she typed it.” So the paraprofessional got 100 on that essay, not my student.

Later in the week, another teacher asked to meet with me. She seemed frustrated. I sent my student off a few minutes early with her individual aide so that the teacher and I could meet. This student has many needs and many service providers, including an individual aide. The teacher wanted to discuss expectations, pulling out work samples that this paraprofessional had modified or reduced (e.g., crossing off questions on a worksheet that she deemed to be too hard for the student to do). She’d also apparently been teaching my student a different way to add and subtract than what the teacher was instructing, causing a conflict. We agreed that the student is capable of more than her aide seems to think she can do and made a plan to meet with the paraprofessional together.

It is not uncommon for classrooms to have paraprofessionals assisting, and some students really do require the additional support of individual aides. While these adults can be great assets to the classroom, they require additional training in working with students with hearing loss just the way that any other paraprofessional would. Although there are exceptions, in many cases paraprofessionals are not licensed, trained teachers. Boundaries can become blurred as relationships with students develop and I’ve often seen paraprofessionals become overprotective of students to the point where, as with my students, they are modifying work or even doing the work for them. While these adults generally have good intentions, it does not benefit the students. The classroom teacher must still be the one directing the classroom and the instruction, with the paraprofessional there for support. Students with hearing loss generally have gaps in their skill set to begin with—all the more reason for the teaching professional to make decisions regarding academics and providing instruction, with the paraprofessional there for support and carryover.

So what can we do? I set a meeting with my fourth grader and his teacher and we discussed the essay. He told her the same thing he’d told me about the typing. My student still had the rough draft we’d written together so that will be turned in for a grade. The teacher plans to meet with the para to discuss this concern as well. Following that meeting, I’m going to sit down with both the classroom teacher and the para to go over strategies that benefit this student but still allow him to do his own work, even if it’s not perfect. A similar plan is in place for my second student.  Additionally, while it’s not really my role as the TOD, I’m encouraging both classroom teachers to clarify the job descriptions for these two paraprofessionals. They’re both great people with the best intentions but need to understand that the work turned in is not reflective of themselves or their abilities as a para, but of the student’s skills… and this is important for teachers to see.

How do you work with paraprofessionals in your schools?