Friday, February 25, 2011

It's never going to happen, but in an ideal world...

...everyone who works hard to make schools work well should be appreciated.

One thing that I think is missing from all the education debate right now is classified staff.

Around here, especially in the current teacher job climate, many of our classified staff- also known as paraprofessionals, teachers' aides, etc.- are actually certified teachers. Others have been working in similar jobs for such a long time that they may as well have a teaching degree.

Sure, there are some who are unexperienced, not competent, or downright lazy, but most of our paras are very good at what they do and really care about the kids. In our building, there are paras who move from small group to small group all day long, providing intervention for struggling kids. There are paras who work with special needs kids and have to know their particular needs and quirks in order to service them. There are paras who work alongside teachers in the classroom all day.

They often work just shy of full-time (not by choice) so that the school corporation doesn't have to shell out for their benefits. Some of the paras I know still have to spend time at school either before or after they clock in to plan for their small group instruction the next day. Most paras come to be incredibly knowledgeable about the classrooms and kids they work in. They know what is normal, what is allowed, and where things are.

And yet, amazingly, paras (of any experience or talent level) in many corporations make slightly less per day than substitute teachers, who come in to a classroom they likely don't know at all in a school they likely don't know well. They don't know the kids or the rules. Even the best substitute teachers have to be left simplified plans because rarely can the teacher count on things running the same as usual in her absence.

Paras do their job day in, day out, and know the drill. And many of them find their jobs rewarding- but unfortunately, the pay is terrible. Especially if someone doesn't have a second income, it's hard to make it on a para's pay.

And that's not fair. Sure, it might be fair for the kid just out of college who has nothing better to do and does the bare minimum of work, not bothering to connect with kids. But when a school finds someone who is good at the job, reliable, and knows the kids, the school should try to retain that person by paying them a reasonable amount. At the very least, even if the hourly pay were to stay the same, an experienced and talented para should get to work full-time so that s/he can get benefits.

All of the focus right now is on teachers, and believe me, teachers are a big part of the puzzle. But it frustrates me to see people at my school that are good paraprofessionals leaving for other jobs- even though they enjoy this one and feel like they're making a difference- because they simply can't afford to stay. It's not good for our kids- particularly special needs kids- to have a revolving door of paras. It's not good for our schools to be re-training people instead of sticking with those we have. It's not fair to those paras who teach kids and help teachers teach better that they aren't compensated better than the random college kid who knows nothing about education but comes in to sub for the paycheck.

It's about time that schools get enough funding to be able to really hang on to the people- teachers and support staff- who make the schools better. Paras should be able to get paid more as they prove that they are capable, dependable, experienced, and good at their job. I wouldn't call it merit pay, but I do think good support staff should be getting paid what they deserve.