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Let’s Find a Better Word: Paraprofessionals

Posted on May 31, 2019

Let’s Find a Better Word: Paraprofessionals

par·a·pro·fes·sion·al

/ˌperəprəˈfeSH(ə)n(ə)l/

Noun. A person to whom a particular aspect of a professional task is delegated but who is not licensed to practice as a fully qualified professional.

As most of you know, I am always thinking about my language. Over the years, I’ve worked to remove terms like homeless person, addict, traumatized person, HIV Positive, and other ways our society labels people by their most negative characteristics from my vocabulary.

As schools become more of a focus in my writing and trainings, I’m really struggling with the term paraprofessional or paras for short. When I think about the future of trauma-sensitive schools, people currently called paras play a crucial role. I’m advocating that increasing the amount of para support in classrooms will help students with trauma get the social, emotional, behavioral, and academic support they need to heal and succeed in school.

We need to provide these professionals and the partner teacher with specialized training and supervision to help them meet the social-emotional needs of their students. Not only would this approach offer students the individual attention they need, but it would also support our teachers, increasing their capacity to utilize their academic expertise and not just focus on behaviors. I, also, believe we need to push mental health expertise into the classrooms to support teachers in addressing the behavioral struggles of their students with trauma (that’s another post).

A job title defined as a not “fully qualified professional” demeans the critical role they play in the lives of their students and the teachers who universally treasure the support these folks provide their classrooms. Labeling paraprofessionals communicates that we could throw anyone in the classroom and get the same results. Strong paras improve every aspect of the classroom. An investment in more para support is an affordable approach to improving the classroom experience for students struggling with the behavioral and academic results of trauma.

Instead, let’s find a name that demonstrates their value and let’s train them, so they are “qualified” for the work they truly do for our students. Teacher’s Assistance is better but still doesn’t go far enough. How about Instructional Specialist? Here is the definition for a specialist: a person who concentrates primarily on a particular subject or activity; a person highly skilled in a specific field. Now that describes the great folks I meet that possess every bit of passion and brilliance as people I meet with graduate degrees and more formal titles.

Label and title demonstrate the value a person has to society and its children.

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