In small town America… I found a precious pearl. I found her in a Special Education classroom last October. She communicates through her first level of communication; emotion. She does this through the lens of autism. This Pearl is (as you can imagine) often misunderstood, and fights to be understood. To prove it, on my first day of work, I was informed that she was the kicker, hitter, spitter, and biter, of the class.
On my second day, I got a taste of it. I was struck in the head and had my hair pulled for what seemed like no apparent reason. From that point, in order to protect myself, I made it a point to be more attentive to her signals, needs, and wants. I quickly learned of the friction between her guardian, her teacher, and school staff. Within a couple of weeks, the number of aggressions escalated to up to 40 times a day.
Once, she kicked the teachers bookshelf down. Then, acted out aggressively towards other students. That same day we were instructed to transition her into a solitary room environment. We were told, she was to be accompanied by two associates at all times and to work solely on behaviors.
As I worked with her, I remained alert and noticed how I became more acute to quieting her outbursts before they happened. We implemented a work/break system, and was able to document a dwindling of aggressions. She improved in speaking, and she even began to positively respond to potty training. Within that same time span, we saw less of her teacher and was given less instruction.
As days rolled into weeks, I became frustrated with the lack of communication. I would ask or inquire about certain things, and I was often told there was really no way to answer my question. Occasionally, the other associate and I needed assistance in handling certain situations. So, out of convenience I began to speak more openly with the therapists on site. Soon, it was reported I was going over my direct supervisor’s head in my questioning.
From there, I was pulled to the side for a talk by my teacher who stated, “you are to report to me as chain of command”. I understood her sentiments but I responded by saying, “But, I never see you”. She continued on about juggling her responsibilities with her other students. Afterwards, I was given state copies of appropriate and inappropriate paraeducator duties.
In the copies, the listed duties for Paraeducators were as so:
Appropriate Paraeducator Duties for Instruction are reinforcing application of skills on previously introduced concepts. Paraeducators should be trained in how to follow, but not go beyond, teacher directions in practice and drilling sessions.
Appropriate Paraeducator Duties for Student Behavior in the implementing of student behavior plans the Paraeducators need to be trained in how to follow, but not go beyond, teacher directions in implementing behavior plans.
Inappropriate Paraeducator Duties for Instruction are setting goals for students and/or classes. Inappropriate Paraeducator Duties for Student Behavior are developing and evaluating student behavior goals and plans.
Inappropriate Paraeducator Duties for Organizational Duties are developing plans and routines for orderly, healthy, and safe environments. And, designing learning environments, learning centers, and adaptive equipment. For time unsupervised, paraeducators should not take the place of a teacher who is out of the classroom for daily or regularly scheduled periods.
That afternoon, I was monitored in my interactions with the student without any further direction or redirection. After getting a negative vibe, I realized the situation was becoming toxic. I began to question, what is the major contributor of inequity in this situation?
As I looked further, the document noted: The substitute authorization is not intended to replace daily or regularly planned instruction. Meaning, if we associates had a Substitute Authorization, we were not in authority to replace the teachers instruction.
I could see the student did not have the full support from her teacher to be successful. Then, I began to wonder about the countless pearls lost at sea, because they didn’t have the proper support. Then, I began to reflect upon some of the teachers in my own life who didn’t support the furthering of my education. I was crushed at where the balance weighed for this precious pearls education.
I questioned, how could there be such a lack of empathy and equity from an educator? Perhaps she was exhausted from dealing with the situation. But, what is a major contributor of inequity? Did the student have support to transition back into the classroom? Is this truly an inclusive learning environment? Did the educator’s own bias get in the way? Is there a chain reaction of marginalization happening here?
After doing some research I learned, “equity can strengthen a student’s health and social-emotional development”. (Atchison, B., Diffey, L., Rafa, A., and Sarubbi, M. Equity in Education: Key Questions to Consider, Education Commission of the States, June, 2017 pp.1-6.)
That was it! Equity was the missing component in this situation. It wasn’t long before I removed myself from the situation not wanting to perpetuate an injustice which goes against my belief system.
This is article is written not to villanize anyone directly associated with this situation. It is an advocate’s cry of help for a Pearl who cannot help herself. We as educators need more empathy, more support, and more resources to assist us in giving students the best quality education. These events occurred over a time span of six months. Meanwhile, the quality of my precious Pearl’s education still hangs in the balance of an inequitable administration.