As the educational system changes and classroom sizes grow, the need for paraeducators is increasingly more important. A paraeducator is an employee who works under the supervision of teachers or other licensed personnel. The Mississippi Bend Area Education Agency (AEA) utilizes paraeducators in both the Area Nine Shelter School and the Juvenile Detention Education Program. The focus of these organizations is on education, personal development, job related skills, computer literacy, and social awareness while helping students develop positive attitudes, set goals, and interact in an acceptable manner in a variety of situations.
Paraeducators must be able to exhibit flexibility in their willingness to assist teachers in various locations, situations and times. Because paraeducators work so closely with the teacher their job description can be hard to define and often contain shades of grey. Some of their responsibilities include: working with students individually or in small groups to strengthen their learning skills; assisting in preparation and maintenance of instructional materials; leading the orientation process of new students and conducting program placement activities; and supervising students in a positive and proactive manner.
Because of the ever-changing complexity of their role, paraeducators need professional development to stay updated on effective practices. Although Iowa does not require paraeducators to be certified, they strongly recommend districts, AEAs, and community colleges provide opportunities to encourage certification. Mississippi Bend AEA offers three courses required to become a certified paraeducator; Communication, Ethics and Confidentiality helps develop skills and strategies to enhance communication and examine situations where professionalism, ethical standards and confidentiality will guide the correct course of action;Behavior Improvement helps develop skills and strategies to assist, support and maintain safe environments, educational activities, team interventions, and technology integration; Roles and Responsibilities helps develop skills and strategies to assist in physical and intellectual development along with helping to establish positive and productive relationships in the schools. The three courses must be completed before applying to the state for certification. The certification is valid for five years and requires completion of three credits before renewal.
The paraeducator plays a vital role in the academic, social and emotional success of students but is often over looked for recognition in the achievements of a classroom. Educational systems will continue to change; teacher and student needs will continue to change; responsibilities of paraeducators will continue to change; but, the need for paraeducators will not.