Why Appreciation of the “Paraprofessional” Matters

Growing up, there was one thing in particular that would drive my father crazy.  That thing was ingratitude.  As a result, it has been ingrained in me to always show appreciation to people for the things they do, especially considering that there are very few things that people must do.

This week is Teacher Appreciation Week and in light of that, I thought I’d share some thoughts on what this week means to me.

(source: theodysseyonline.com)

I have worked in education consistently over the past four years.  When I returned to Maryland from Dallas in 2012, I had a hard time finding a job.  A really hard time.  It was by chance that my now sister-in-law had just begun working at a private school in the city and they were looking for after care teachers.  I applied for the position and was offered the job to be an After Care Teacher for 3-5 year olds.  From there, I have taught a 7th grade math class and several independent study courses for high schoolers, acted as the in-school tutor for students in grades one through eight, have been employed as an Instructional Assistant at a local public school district in both general education and special education, and am currently a special education assistant for a local public charter school.

I’ve always been asked with all the education I have, why I did not opt to teach.  That is a question too complicated to answer in this one post.  The simplest way to put it is that obtaining these jobs started as a way to survive (pay bills…barely) and it has been helpful to have a job that did not require much outside of the 40 hour work week so that I could have the freedom to do what was required to finish this 60 plus hour Masters degree.

Every time this week rolls around since I started my journey working in education, I have looked at it differently.  The truth of the matter is that I am what is considered a paraprofessional.  I have had to fight the feeling of shame that comes with saying that because I know that people expect much out of my life.  I know I was the one voted Most Likely to Succeed in my high school class.  I know that people know that I am finishing up my second Masters degree.  I know people look at my life and expect more.  I look at my life and have constantly said, “Ashley, there’s more.  What are you doing, girl?”

So, it’s always unique when this week rolls around and there’s this big push to recognize and appreciate teachers.  And almost always, there is on some level an unspoken distinction between teachers and those of us who support them in that role.  This post is not about equality, but it’s about fairness.  People that should be included in the appreciation get left out in some ways.

Most people know that teachers are some of the most underpaid professionals, considering the hours of input and the direct effort that must go into ensuring the success of those who are the future.  With the increasing pressure to meet growing standards and your worth being attached to test scores, many would agree that teachers deserve at the very least a week of appreciation and support.  At the very least.

And then there are the “paraprofessionals” – the teaching assistants, the instructional assistants, the dedicated aides – those whose job it is to assist the teachers and administration in reaching the educational goals.  It has been my experience that though it is said that paraprofessionals are appreciated for what they do, it often looks different.

I am grateful that my current place of employment has people who work hard to not just say appreciation but show appreciation but this has not always been my experience.  At my previous job, there were two sides of the spectrum as a paraprofessional – either you couldn’t do anything but menial tasks or you very integrated into the classroom process that you were actually teaching in certain cases.  There was very little in between and of course there were always exceptions.  But generally speaking, it would take a lot of willpower to work with colleagues who speak to me as if I was uneducated and incapable of doing anything besides making photocopies of homework packets or it would take just as much willpower to deal with colleagues who knew how educated and overqualified I was for my position and tried to get me to do their jobs.

(source: susanfitzell.com)

Most paraprofessionals I know are hard-working, comically underpaid (many times not even earning a liveable wage; I’ve been working multiple jobs to make ends meet since my first “education” job), bursting with great ideas that are utilized in classrooms every day, and are educated.  Yes, we are educated.  There’s nothing “para” about what most of us bring to the table.  We are called on to do the “little people” tasks but so much of what we do sets up the teachers and administration of our schools to be as successful as they would want to be.  We may not be as visible as others but we’re just as dedicated, just as committed, and just as integral to the educational process of students.  We make photocopies, design instructional props, and are likely called on to work with students to grasp concepts or make that final push for comprehension before test time.  We educate, too.

(source: susanfitzell.com)

Appreciation goes a long way, much further than the numerous other things we may lack in our position.  And honestly my plea is simple – I want people to stop treating “paraprofessionals” as less than.  I want us to be remembered, too – not as wannabe teachers or “just instructional assistants”.  I want that during this week of emphasis and appreciation for those who educate that we’re not silently forgotten.  It’s not enough that you appreciate us if you don’t push for others to do the same.

To ALL who educate or support the educational processes in our institutions of learning I say, “Happy Teacher’s/Educator’s Appreciation Week”

2 thoughts on “Why Appreciation of the “Paraprofessional” Matters

  1. Wish we had ‘teacher appreciation week’ here in the uk. Or at least ‘just do the work without complaining hour’ every now & then!

    1. Thanks for reading! You know the awesome part about it is – you can actually start those movements yourself. I’m sure you’d agree that those who educate do more than they’re credited for so it wouldn’t be bad to be in the forefront of Teacher Appreciation Week movement in the UK. As for the second part of your comment, I’d say let it begin with you too :-).


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