Monday, January 3, 2011

Musings on the Control and Role of a Paraeducator

I realized objectively today that I wasn't in control of the students in the third grade class I work with. Little girl swiped my keys from me during recess! That's when I noticed. I guess I was acutely aware of it before that moment, but when she actually grabbed the lanyard dangling from my hand and dove, following the momentum of the movement, to the ground, and then wouldn't give them back upon my request, that's when it really hit me. These students don't view me as I would like to be viewed. I mean, I guess it's not that big of a deal because I'm only a para, I only see them 6-8 hours a week, but it is nevertheless my intention to be construed as an adult.

There is not much I can do in my current position that I would do to change the situation as a classroom teacher. The teachers I work with have rules and expectations (or the lack there of) that they set themselves, and who am I to walk in and change them? When I am in another's classroom, I must abide by their atmospheric intentions. But to what end? Even if it means losing what little control I once may have had with the students? How can I convey order in a classroom whose teacher doesn't demand it?

I remember having these very thoughts after my first semester of para-educating. Blatantly, I had blown it. The first graders hung on me and called for me to stand by them and to be their special friend. After my first semester, the school I was at lost funding and I found a position at another school, one I've held for a year and a half now. And before beginning here, I asked myself how I had gone wrong, how I could have let myself be seen in such a manner. The answer I found was presence. I needed to harden my presence and let students know that I was an authority figure, one to be respected but also obeyed.

And apparently I have been lax in doing such, because I find myself in this position yet again. Only this time I don't have the newness and mystery of being a new employee for support. I have to stand even taller and tell the students who already know me that I will no longer tolerate such behavior.


Writing those words just now somehow hurt my spirit. How can I say such things in the place where I wish to evoke creativity and unconventional educational ideas? But doesn't any effective classroom deserve a strong, firm educator? Where does the line between strong/firm and oppressive/authoritarian really lie?