What is a Paraprofessional?

All About the Assistant to the Teacher

My name is Eliza and I work as a Special Education Paraprofessional at an elementary school near St. Paul, Minnesota. This is my third year as a Para and I love it! I like to think of my position as “the assistant to the teacher” (from an episode of The Office, where Michael, the office manager, promotes Dwight, a salesman, to the made-up position of “assistant to the manager”). I am there to back up the teacher!

Michael Scott and Dwight Schrute in The Office episode “Lice”, episode 10, season 9

Each teacher has a different style of teaching and behavior management and I have to be flexible to accommodate the teacher’s expectations and the student’s needs. My observation skills must always be on to predict what my student may do next or what they will need in any situation to be successful. Sometimes it can be noise-cancelling headphones if we have an assembly in the gym and sometimes it is a weighted blanket if they are agitated in class. Often, I am helping manage behavior and giving reminders to students to listen to their teacher and keep their hands to themselves. 

Most of the time I tutor in math, reading, and writing. My students vary from grades kindergarten to fifth. I run on a tight schedule! About every thirty minutes I will go to a different classroom and help students with whatever they’re working on at that time. Other times I will take one or two students out of their classroom to work at a table in a corner of the hall. Occasionally I will cover the groups of the Special Education Teacher I work under when they have a crisis to respond to with one of their students.

When a student is upset, it takes time to calm them down, and sometimes physical intervention is needed. It is probably the most difficult part of the job, using physical “holds” to calm a child when they have been screaming, kicking, hitting, spitting, and throwing things. The situation is tense and the priority is to keep the students safe from hurting themselves and others. On those days, the stress sticks with me. After listening to the internal anguish of a small person I will need to spend time relaxing the muscles and the mind. Those are the days that leave me exhausted and feeling down. My empathic side fills up from being in those situations and my job is to clear myself out before the next school day, so I can be a positive and calm role model.

Those tough days are one reason I started this blog. I want to share the strategies that work for me to be mindful when I am at work and at home. The school environment can be loud, chaotic, and stressful to work in everyday. It helps to have activities that calm the mind and release tension in the body, like meditation, journaling, and a creative outlet. I hope if you work in a similar environment and role, you can learn ways to create “hygge” in your life and share your strategies with me, too!

Sometimes I feel like a counselor because I spend a lot of energy encouraging students and talking to them about their emotions. I am in the halls often while moving from classroom to classroom and will monitor the halls for unsafe behavior or high emotional behavior. Recently, I saw a first grader crying in the hall. They were holding their math book and their pencil. Through their tears they told me their teacher told them to sit in the hall and finish one page of math. They were crying because they did not know how to do the problems. I asked them if they would like a hug, they nodded and we hugged. I sat down with them on the floor and cheerfully explained one of the problems to them. They completed the problem and I could see they calmed down a little and had stopped crying. The rest of the problems were similar, so for a little confident boost, I told them to repeat after me, “I am smart. I can do this.” They repeated what I said and I told them if they could do the first problem, then they could do the rest of the problems. They got to work on the rest of the problems. That was about five minutes of my day and I do that many times throughout the day!

My favorite part of the job is playing games with my students, we like to play Uno and a logic game called “Go Bong”. Growing up, I played a lot of cards and board games with my family. Kids these days, they are on their iPads and phones in their freetime at home! We just didn’t have the chance to use those things growing up in the 90’s and early 2000’s. I grew up near downtown Minneapolis and would have been outside most of the time if it was safe for me to be outside alone. As it was, I played with my brothers and other children in the neighborhood, we had 4-Square in our driveway and we ran through the sprinkler in the yard on hot days. I always ask my students if they will play outside on the weekends and I try to get myself outside, too. (:

I hope this gives you a sense of what it is like to be a Special Education Para. If you are a Para, please connect with me by leaving a comment or email me at eckraker@gmail.com. If this is true to your experience, I would love to hear about it. If you have a different experience as a Para, I would love to grow and learn from your experiences!

Peace and love,


Header photo by Jeffrey Kraker

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