This letter was submitted anonymously by a teacher in the Montclair Public Schools district.
What is the value of a paraprofessional in our classrooms? It is really quite simple: our schools could not run without them.
If you doubt this, pay attention sometime to the rhetoric of the guides on our school tours. In giving the school the best possible image ever, the tour guides tell parents about low class size, and the amount of paraprofessionals in the room offering extra support. In fact, this is such a huge selling point for parents entering our school system that the tours fudge the truth a bit, pretending adults in the room at that moment – long term subs, student teachers, a parent volunteer – are full time paraprofessionals.
Our parents understand the significance of having competent paraprofessionals in the room. It means that their child will receive individual, differentiated instruction as well as tender loving care all day. It means that when a child needs extra assistance or is easily distracted, that someone who knows him or her well will take the child to a quiet place and go over the lesson with him or her.
Teachers and paraprofessionals in a solid relationship can seamlessly switch roles to serve the needs of the classroom community better. A teacher can conference with one child while the paraprofessional circulates to help individuals and maintain a peaceful atmosphere. A paraprofessional can quickly address non-academic needs – a nurse visit or an upset child – without any interruption to the teacher’s lesson or the rest of the group.
Paraprofessionals offer a sense of stability to children. They go with the children to lunch, recess and to their related arts classes. Teachers don’t. The children develop a bond with paraprofessional that is unique and trusting. Some children who are shy to ask a teacher for help will feel comfortable asking the paraprofessional.
Of course, the paras also serve our most vulnerable children: those with special needs. A teacher simply cannot create a classroom environment in which all children can rise to their academic potential without the assistance of the paraprofessional. They are not merely, “an extra set of hands;” on the contrary, they are extra eyes, ears, a second point of view, and another person who wants to see children feel comfortable and successful in this time of “rigor.” They are our collaborators and our co-teachers.
To cut the paraprofessional staff is to rob the children of the care they need. It is to rob the children’s parents of the care that they are promised every year during school tours. It also robs our budget of needed personnel as it continues to hire people with new titles that don’t come close to servicing real students in real classrooms every day in Montclair.
We are sorry that our district disregards our paraprofessionals and makes them feel like they are unimportant. It shows a great disconnect between the people who sit in offices all day making large salaries and the ones that barely sit at all unless there is a student beside them, making very small salaries.
Our schools cannot run without an ample staff of paraprofessionals. Please remember this when considering the upcoming budget.