Paraeducators: The Unsung Heroes of Public Schools

I am a public-school teacher and have been for the past 13 years. So much has changed in the world of education during my time in the classroom. Programs have come and gone, we have dabbled in the art of online teaching, social media has made everything more complicated, and we have increased our safety measures by indescribable amounts. One thing that has not changed, however, is the fact that paraeducators are the unsung heroes of public education.

Paraeducators, also known as paraprofessionals or paras, are often charged with working with students who need extra love for one reason or another. Perhaps the child has a developmental or physical disability, has behavioral needs that require one-on-one attention, or struggles to function in a classroom setting without help. Whatever the need may be, I watch daily as the paras rise to the occasion and ensure that their students feel as successful as possible. I have seen them handle epic meltdowns with grace, be called every name in the book and not bat an eyelash, and take countless motor breaks with children who are just a little wigglier than everyone else.

Aside from working with children, they are often put into various classroom settings throughout the day, which means dealing with many different adults. We all know that certain personalities are more difficult to work with than others, but paraeducators have this beautiful way of finding the patience and grace to collaborate with everyone. They truly know that in order for the students to succeed the adults need to work cooperatively.

I have had paraeducators in my classroom both to help with the entire class and to help with individual students, and am constantly humbled by their presence. I will never forget one morning when a paraeducator walked into my room and I was completely shook. At some point overnight a swarm of flying ants had somehow gotten into my classroom and decided to die on every surface in the room. I was beside myself. The para came in, got his student settled, picked up a broom, and cleaned my room. I don’t know if he knew it, but it meant more to me than I could explain. I wasn’t in the headspace to handle it and he approached it with such ease. It truly allowed me to reset my day. This is only one example of a paraeducator going far above and beyond while working in my room. I could go on for days about the kindnesses they have shown to me and to the students.

I would be remiss if I did not take a moment to mention Ann Marie Murphy, who died in the Sandy Hook shooting. The student she was working with at the time died in her arms. She died protecting those babies. I have said it before and I will say it a million more times, we do not give paraeducators enough credit for what they do. Our schools would not function without them.

Next time you want to thank the members of the school community for something positive that they have done, don’t forget the paraeducators. Yes, teachers do a lot, and administrators help, but the paraeducators are the people who are truly giving all of themselves every single day to help the kids who need love the most, and are doing it for far less money than they deserve. Thank you, paras, for helping our schools run. I see you and I am forever grateful for all that you do.

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