Paraprofessional, Instructional Assistant, Teacher’s Aide, Educational Assistant… these wonderful people go by many names. When we read these titles, however, we may not really understand what their jobs entail. After almost 10 years in education, though, I think I can sum up a parapro’s job description in one word: superhero.
Every day, I watch these people do amazing things. I watch them stand and greet students as they enter our gym or cafeteria, providing smiles and hugs for each one. I see them follow schedules even more complicated than mine, moving between grade levels and never missing a beat. I watch them wrestle with copy machines and spend hours cutting out laminated items. I hear them out in the hallways, working with that one child who still can’t read sight words or add two-digit numbers. I even have watched them take verbal or physical assault from the student they have been assigned to help because music class is too much. They are vital to all of the education initiatives that we’ve come to embrace over the years, like “Title,” “Response to Intervention,” “Special Education.”
We ask these amazing people to do so much, to give so much of themselves. We ask them to jump through hoops like certification testing and after-hours trainings, and we expect them to do anything and everything within the buildings in which they work. If you think that teachers are underpaid (which, let’s be real, we are), let me tell you who is really underpaid: paraprofessionals. They make a fraction of what teachers do, yet they are asked to do so much more than they are paid for.
Oftentimes, only students recognize paraprofessionals for all that they do, but everyone should understand and appreciate how important paraprofessionals are in the field of education. These amazing men and women are some of the strongest connections our students with extensive needs make within the building. If you are involved in education in any way, as a parent, an employee or even a community member who cares, try to take a moment to thank a paraprofessional. They deserve our appreciation, not just one day a year, but every day.