Need Moar Advice on Being a Competent Para
August 30, 2009 8:19 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for your thoughts on how to be a good paraprofessional (a.k.a. teacher's aide, teaching assistant) at a high school.

I'm starting a new job as an ESL paraprofessional and have never done it before. Just looking for thoughts/advice from other paras, teachers, administrators, other school employees, parents, students, or whoever on good or bad experiences with paras.
posted by TheClonusHorror to Education (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'm a teacher.

Be a self starter. The teacher won't always have the time or inclination to assign you specific duties. If you aren't given a specific task, use your professional judgment to decide what needs to be done.

Be discreet. Many students who need help don't like to admit it in front of their peers. Don't make a big deal out of what you're doing.

Be patient. This one doesn't need much explanation.

Have a sense of humour. Kids are funny - don't be afraid to loosen up and laugh with them.
posted by davey_darling at 8:43 PM on August 30, 2009

Make friends with the custodial staff.
posted by saxamo at 11:10 PM on August 30, 2009

Treat everyone that you meet with the same compassion, care that you expect to be treated with.
posted by chairish at 2:32 AM on August 31, 2009

I'm a special education teacher and the combined success of me and my students can often come down to the paraprofessional in the class: you're THAT important.

There is a wealth of professional information at where you can find great stuff.

Other things:
Have fun, be professional, don't talk about lousy teachers or miserable kids, if you don't like a kid do everything in your power to NOT show it, when a kid doesn't get something try not to be visibly annoyed, arrive on time and don't take extra breaks, don't make personal calls during the day if you can avoid it, spend more time getting to know the kids (I like to do "2 minutes to talk" at least daily with all of my students, and super important: you'll find that many, many paraeducators feel underused and they can have pretty shitty attitudes. Don't get drawn into their "this school is miserable" attitude.

Suggest ways to help kids. Don't wait for direction. If a kid tells you something alarming, tell a teacher or someone in admin right away.

Be flexible. Enjoy the fact that you're truly important to their success, and you can check out at the end of the day without hours of paperwork.

Be positive with your coworkers. Have crazy ideas. Don't be whiny.

You'll have a blast!
posted by dzaz at 2:57 AM on August 31, 2009

Don't give overcomplicated answers. I worked with ESL high schoolers in one job, and they were at all different levels. This was in a computer lab, but I ended up answering language, tech, and cultural questions. I would answer one question, which would lead to another, and another...

Because kids learn at different levels, I would find a student who was savvy in one area to help others if they appeared done with their work. One kid was a computer whiz, one knew just how to structure that sentence, etc.

I wasn't much older than the students, so I treated them like younger siblings. Joking, not being condescending, but not putting up with whining when I know they can do depends on your style, and the teacher.

Also, a lot of the ESL students I worked with were shy. Walk around and see how kids are doing, the shy ones usually didn't directly ask me for help. And smiles and compliments go a long way (Thanks for helping so-and-so!, I really like your introduction!, etc)

And don't bad mouth the teacher, or anyone, to the students. Of course they'll complain about teachers, but don't give them a lecture about it.

Patience!!! You'll explain the same concept a bazillion times and a bazillion different ways.

I thought I was pretty good on my grammar rules, but those kids were pros at esoteric questions. Brush up on your grammar! Strunk and Wagnall's Elements of Style is great for giving clear explanations.
posted by shinyshiny at 3:37 AM on August 31, 2009

There might be some useful information on this Language Assistant site.

(Disclaimer: I know some people who worked on it.)
posted by Busy Old Fool at 1:07 AM on September 7, 2009

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