Paraprofessionals:The Black Sheep Of Public Education
We Need Paraprofessionals In Our Schools
I really do not think when the average American citizen hears the word Paraprofessional that they have a clue of what the word means unless they are working in the field of education. Let me say this that I think people know what teacher's aides, bus monitors, and school secretaries are but to recognize them as a professional group that is equally as important as the classroom teacher I would have to guess that this isn't the case. The problem in general is I do not think education as a whole gets any respect. When I would tell people what I did for a living I would hear oh you get the summers off, paid vacations, and you work a few hours and not as hard as I do. I must say these generic often-stereotypical remarks are not only insulting but also not entirely true.
One thing I would like to address is most paraprofessionals are hardly making any decent money and find themselves working a second job or summer school in many cases. The job for a Special Education Classroom Assistant in Philadelphia pays about $27,000 a year and when you do the math before taxes it comes to a little over a thousand dollars every two weeks. Often after taxes, my tax home pay was around the ballpark of $500-600. Grant it there have been raises in the two years since I left the system but not many people can live comfortably on this kind of salary. One check alone can easily be your rent payment.
Now I do not want to make this Hub where I am trying to say feel bad for the Paraprofessionals. What I would like to do is raise some respect for this class of educational employees. For example, Special Education Classroom Assistants are a big contributing factor to the Special Education Teacher. Depending on the type of class this is you will be assisting with bathroom skills, life skills such as teaching the children how to eat, brush their teeth etc., accompany the children to lunch and specials. This is in addition to other duties in the classroom that might entail marking papers, testing children, working one on one with a student who needs extra support. Finally in our district a few of the schools I worked at required us assistants to stay after school to help with dismissal duties and often we didn't get out till thirty to sixty minutes after the professional staff and students went home.
Another unrecognized group of paraprofessionals especially here in Philadelphia is what we call Non-Teaching Assistants. Non-Teaching Assistants were hired in the early 70s to help relieve teachers of non-teaching duties that were previously dictated by principals. These duties included everything from making copies to yard duty to standing on street corners to supervise children during non-instructional periods. With the hiring of Non-Teaching Assistants known as NTAs teachers could finally concentrate on the job they went to school for teaching . Through the years with the increase in school violence and crimes NTAs along with School Police often acted together in patrolling halls, lunchrooms, and exteriors of school buildings to make sure staff and students were safe.
NTAs were saviors to the school climate. They were a teacher's best friend when they had a student that had become extremely difficult to manage or in the worst case scenario when they had a fight break out in the classroom. With the presence of these essential personnel, there was a sense of security that staff members felt making the often-difficult school climate easier to handle.
I do believe that the total disregard of Paraprofessionals as a whole including NTAs that the respect for the public school employee which hadn't been quite significant to begin with suddenly dwindled down to nothing in a record amount of time. With this lack of respect comes the philosophy that these jobs are just extra fat to a school districts budget. It is then that you see the swift budget cuts come about mainly resting on these same individuals that might have helped your neighbors' daughter out with their classwork or maybe protected your grandchild from danger during an unsafe situation. It is unfortunate that most taxpayers see these jobs as non-essential. Right now in the district there have been thousands of Paraprofessionals laid off meanwhile leaving our school corridors, classrooms, and lunchrooms unprotected and monitored. Any look into the recent rash of violence that has infested the city schools will show you the lack of their presence has done to the overall school environment.
I hope that with a little more respect for these jobs maybe folks will see the importance of the paraprofessional and how important the job is to the teacher. I do not think administrators realize how critical is to have these positions available in every school building.