Increasing parental demands to place children in least restrictive
environments have resulted in school districts being faced with
providing inclusion experiences for students with a range of
disabilities. However, the option to place a special education student
in an inclusive setting is typically limited by many factors, including
the (a) student's academic and social functioning level, (b)
presence and severity of challenging behaviors, (c) willingness of the
general education classroom teacher, and (d) availability of resources
within a particular school. Even so, as the benefits of inclusion,
particularly in the social areas, have become highlighted (Evans,
Salisbury, Palombaro, Berryman, & Hollowood, 1992; Kennedy, Shukla,
& Fryxell, 1997), parents have increasingly asserted that regardless
of their child's functioning level, willingness of teachers, or
current availability of resources, the best educational environment for
their child is the inclusive setting.
A growing number of parents are impatient with waiting for schools
to undergo the types of systemic changes necessary for creating
inclusion programs, such as those proposed by the National Association
of State Boards of Education (NASBE; 1990), Will (1986), and Shrag
(1993) among others. In other words, although the literature on
inclusive practices continues to highlight the limitations of the
general education setting in meeting the needs of students with
disabilities (Baker & Zigmond, 1990; Janney & Snell, 1997;
McIntosh, Vaughn, Schumm, Haager, & Lee, 1993; Zigmond & Baker,
1994), particularly for students with challenging behaviors (Braaten,
Kauffman, Braaten, Polsgrove, & Nelson, 1988; Lewis, Chard, &
Scott, 1994; MacMillan, Gresham, & Forness, 1996), many parents are
not willing to wait for a "right time," a time when all the
issues that plague placement in inclusive settings and that are often
the focus of heated discussions (e.g., Algozzine, Maheady, Sacca,
O'Shea, & O'Shea, 1990; Blackman, 1989; Braaten et al.,
1988; Fuchs & Fuchs, 1994; Kauffman, 1993; Lipsky & Gartner,
1987; Taylor, 1988) are completely resolved. From the parents'
perspective, a reasonably good inclusion program today is preferable to
a perfect inclusion program tomorrow. These parents appear to concur
with Keith Storey (1993), who notes "physical integration is a
necessary first step for other forms of integration" (p. 281).
One type of support that general education teachers have identified
as essential for placing special education students in their classrooms
has been extra classroom support (Wolery, Werts, Caldwell, Snyder, &
Lisowski, 1995). As a result, many school districts, in an effort to
meet both the needs of the teachers and the inclusion students, have
hired paraeducators (Doyle, 1997; French & Pickett, 1997; Giangreco,
Edelman, Luiselli, & MacFarland, 1997). Yet, as Wolery et al. (1995)
PURPOSE OF THE STUDY
In order to better understand the experiences of paraeducators
working with inclusion students, the first author conducted a series of
interviews. Our purpose in this article is to highlight the primary
themes related to how paraeducators assumed their roles and
responsibilities and the dilemmas they faced while providing educational
and behavioral supports for inclusion students. We believe that in
examining these "emic perspectives" (Patton, 1990) we can
begin to understand the implications of utilizing paraeducators. A
primary goal in this examination was to improve our own practices,
particularly in how we work to support and supervise paraeducators and
the types of training and supervision that they may need.
Background for the Study
The paraeducators in this study and the authors work for an
organization referred to as a "Nonpublic Agency." Local school
districts in the San Francisco Bay area contract with our agency to
provide additional support for special education students who present
challenging behaviors. Although many of these students would typically
not have been considered appropriate for placement in inclusive settings
because of the severity of problem behaviors, school districts, in
efforts to meet parental requests, have turned to our agency as a means
for enhancing the support provided to general education teachers. This
support includes a one-to-one paraeducator and a behavior consultant who
provides training and ongoing supervision of the paraeducator. Further
training and workshops on positive behavioral support and teaching
strategies are provided throughout the school year. Supervision
typically involves a weekly meeting with the paraeducators to conduct
observations and to develop both behavioral and academic plans. General
education and special education teachers also attend some of these
meetings. Supervisors also provide consultation to the educational team,
which typically includes the general education teacher, inclusion
specialist, the parents, and related services personnel.
The authors of this article provide direct supervision and
consultation to the paraeducators. Our backgrounds include extensive
work with designing positive behavioral support plans for students with
challenging behaviors. The first author has worked on a part-time basis
for the nonpublic agency for 1 year; the second and third authors are
co-directors for the agency and have worked in this capacity for the
past 15 years. There are six other behavior consultants/supervisors who
work for this agency.
During the summer, 25 paraeducators were identified for this study.
This identification was based on whether the paraeducator had worked the
previous year in an inclusive setting with a special education student
who presented significant behavioral challenges. To assure
confidentiality and anonymity, all interviews were conducted and
transcribed by the first author. And, except for one of the
paraeducators, the first author did not directly supervise any of the
paraeducators who participated in this study. Although none of the
paraeducators who were contacted refused to be interviewed, five were
unable to be contacted, resulting in 20 interviewees. Initial interviews
were conducted by telephone and all were audiotaped. The purpose of this
initial interview was to gather background information, student
information, and general experiences working as a paraeducator. These
interviews ran between 45 min to 1 hr and followed a semistructured
interview format, which could include expansion of issues raised during
the interview process (Seidman, 1991). Out of the 20 paraeducators for
whom an initial interview was completed, 5 were identified for follow-up
in-depth interviews, 4 of whom were available for the interview. (The
procedure for this selection process is described in the Data Analysis
Procedures section.) The purpose of these in-depth interviews was to
have the paraeducators describe in more detail a typical day at school
and to elaborate on the various roles they assumed. These in-depth
interviews, which typically lasted from 1 1/2 to 2 hr, were conducted in
person and were audiotaped and transcribed verbatim for later data
The 20 paraeducators ranged from 22 to 46 years of age, with most
being under 35. Most had between 2 and 10 years of prior experience
working with individuals with disabilities and three had prior
experiences beyond 10 years. Eighteen of the paraeducators had
educational degrees (BA or MA) in a range of disciplines. Four of the
paraeducators had worked with the same student less than 1 year; 10 had
worked with the same student for 1 year; and 6 had worked with the same
student for 2 to 3 years. All the paraeducators worked with students in
Grades 1 through 8, ten in elementary schools and the other ten in
middle schools. Student primary disability categories included autism
(5); Asperger's syndrome (4); cerebral palsy (3); Down syndrome
(2); and LD, ADHD, or SED (6). Regardless of the disability category,
all the special education students presented varying degrees of
challenging behaviors, primarily aggression and oppositional behavior.
Data Analysis Procedures
All 20 initial interviews were reviewed and coded into a data
display matrix (Miles & Huberman, 1994), using the following
* Years of experience, education, and age.
* Special education student information and primary areas of
* Descriptions of working relationships with the teacher and the
* Interesting and challenging aspects of the job.
* Whether the overall experience was perceived as positive or
Quotes that were identified as exemplars were transcribed verbatim
into the matrix in order to more accurately capture the words of the
This data display matrix was then examined to identify
paraeducators for whom in-depth interviews would be conducted.
Purposeful sampling using "maximum variation sampling"
(Patton, 1990, p. 172) was utilized in selecting these paraeducators.
This was to see if general patterns among different paraeducator
characteristics and experiences could be noted as well as to begin to
explore possible reasons, if any, for differences in experiences. The
following characteristics were used for selection:
* Previous experiences.
* Experience of inclusion as generally positive or negative.
* Number of years as a paraeducator.
* Number of inclusion students with whom they worked.
* Multiple years with the same inclusion student.
* Primary areas of support (academic vs. behavioral supports).
This selection process resulted in a sample group of four
paraeducators who had the following characteristics: one paraeducator
who had over 10 years prior experience and three who had less than 1
year of prior experience; three paraeducators who described their
experiences as positive and one who described the experience as
negative; three paraeducators who had worked for almost 2 years as a
paraeducator and one who had worked as a paraeducator for less than 1
year; one paraeducator who had worked with the same student for 2 years
and two who had worked with multiple students; three paraeducators who
noted that the primary area of focus for their student was on behavioral
supports and one who indicated that the primary area of focus was on
academic supports (three of the students were either described as being
at grade level or slightly below; one student was described as being
below grade level).
Transcripts from the in-depth interviews were reviewed and coded
for exemplars that related to the emerging themes from the initial data
analysis for the full sample group of paraeducators. For the final
analysis, all sets of data were examined and scanned for emerging themes
and data chunks were coded according to patterns that emerged (Miles
& Huberman, 1994). During this examination of themes and patterns,
the authors met regularly to pose hypotheses, refine interpretations,
and to re-examine the data sources (Strauss & Corbin, 1990).
Following this analysis process, a presentation was made to a group
of paraeducators where the themes and issues were highlighted. Most of
the paraeducators attending this presentation were not members of the
original group that was interviewed (only 2 out of the 10 that were
present had been part of the study). Paraeducators were asked to respond
to whether these themes and issues also captured their experiences and
they were asked to elaborate. All of the themes that were presented were
corroborated by the paraeducators, indicating a high degree of
verification (Lincoln & Guba, 1985; Strauss & Corbin, 1990). As
a final check to see if the themes that emerged were reasonable, one of
the paraeducators from this study was asked to read and respond to a
draft version of this article. This paraeducator felt that the themes
captured her experiences. Her comments also helped us elaborate on some
of the interpretations in our discussion of findings.
Paraeducators assumed a range of job responsibilities, such as
providing instruction in academic and social skills; making curricular
modifications; managing student behaviors; and developing working
relationships with others. What is striking about how paraeducators
negotiated their roles and responsibilities is that many of them
appeared to assume the primary burden of success for the inclusion
students. This involved assuming primary responsibility for both
academic and behavioral needs in order to ensure that students would be
successful (e.g., would remain in the inclusive setting, would be
accepted by the teacher). Paraeducators, however, expressed that it was
more appropriate for the classroom teacher to assume these primary
responsibilities. Why then did these paraeducators take on so much of
the responsibility, which inadvertently downplayed the role of the
classroom teacher? Exploration of these dilemmas serve as the subthemes
for this article. Essentially, the following subthemes emerged as
explanations for paraeducators assuming the primary responsibility for
the inclusion student: (a) Student not being a "bother" to the
teacher; (b) Meeting student's immediate academic needs; (c) Being
the "hub" and the "expert"; and (d) Representing
inclusion. These subthemes are depicted in Figure 1.
Summary of Results Why Paraeducators Assumed Primary Responsibility
for Inclusion Students
Student not being a "bother" to the teacher.
* Paraeducators wanted the inclusion experience to be positive for
the teacher and ensure acceptance of the inclusion student.
* Paraeducators felt their own performance would be based on
positive relations with the teacher.
* Paraeducators viewed it as their responsibility to manage all
student behaviors so that the student would not disrupt the classroom.
Meeting student's immediate academic needs.
* Paraeducators assumed tutoring roles for some part of the school
* Paraeducators felt that waiting for teachers and other
professionals to make curricular and teaching decisions was not
feasible, and were often faced with the need to provide daily academic
activities and making "on-the-spot" modifications to the
* Paraeducators felt that their daily close contact with the
inclusion student made them an expert on the needs of the student with
whom they worked.
Being the "hub" and the "expert."
* Paraeducators needed to incorporate a range of suggestions and
recommendations made by school team members and parents.
* Parents often approached the paraeducators for ongoing
information as well as making educational suggestions regarding what
they wanted their children to learn.
* Paraeducators found themselves in an advocacy role, one in which
it was their responsibility to work towards general acceptance of the
inclusion student, or to "represent" the student in a way that
would support that acceptance.
Not Being a "Bother" to the Teacher
In supporting an inclusion student, paraeducators were very
concerned with building a positive working relationship with the teacher
to whom they were assigned. As one paraeducator noted, "If I had to
look at a single factor that made the largest difference in my job,
it's the teacher that I'm placed with." The primacy of
this aspect of the job also appeared to perpetuate paraeducators
assuming primary responsibility for the inclusion student. This was
reflected in how paraeducators attempted to ensure that the teacher was
not "burdened" by the inclusion student. In other words, they
wanted to ensure that the experience of having an inclusion student
would be a positive one for the teacher. Further, most of the
paraeducators felt that their own success would be defined by how well
the teacher accepted the inclusion student.
Concern for building a positive working relationship with the
teacher and concern for ensuring positive teacher responses towards them
and the inclusion student resulted in paraeducators assuming primary
responsibility for managing student behaviors. For many, this role was
viewed as an explicit feature of their job responsibilities. For
example, as one paraeducator put it, "My job ... was to make sure
the child was calm and safe enough that the person whose job it is to
educate him can do that." However, the challenge of managing
student behaviors within an inclusive setting created a level of stress
and frustration for many of the paraeducators. One paraeducator
expressed a sense of responsibility for making sure that the
student's behavior did not disrupt the classroom or "disturb
Another paraeducator also expressed the importance of maintaining a
sense of control with managing behaviors:
Even when student behaviors were managed for a period of time,
events in a student's life (e.g., home circumstances, medication
changes) could result in increased problem behaviors. These
"episodes" were at times difficult to manage, and one
paraeducator talked about a period of time when his student who was
having changes in medication levels, "was having around three
tantrums a day, and ... it was so draining." Another paraeducator
described a similar period of time as "just riding through that
It is clear that these paraeducators felt the primary
responsibility for directly handling almost all of the behaviors that
would arise. At times this meant explaining the probable reasons for the
challenging behaviors to the teachers in order to help them understand
the influence of environmental variables, as well as to support the
teacher in not taking challenging behaviors personally. At other times,
this meant intervening before the classroom teacher would have to:
This paraeducator felt it was important not to involve the teacher
in managing the student's behavior. Another paraeducator concurred:
Meeting Students' Immediate Academic Needs
Addressing the immediate and daily academic needs of the inclusion
student was an equally challenging role for most of the paraeducators.
In fact, more than half of the paraeducators identified this as a
primary area of support in their job responsibilities. These
responsibilities included designing and making adaptations to the
curriculum, and in many ways, functioning as the student's primary
teacher. Many of the paraeducators assumed tutoring roles (working with
their students, one-on-one) for some part of the school day,
particularly if the student was not able to "keep up with what the
teacher was teaching." One paraeducator felt the biggest challenge
was to help his student "keep up academically." Another
described her role as "taking what is being taught and making it
appropriate for [the student]."
Paraeducators noted that they felt it was the responsibility of the
teacher to manage the curriculum; however, they also expressed that this
Another paraeducator expressed that no one seemed to want to take
responsibility for creating the student's curriculum, and "it
just got to the point where it was just easier to do it than to keep
asking people to do it." This same paraeducator noted how one of
the teachers had been a special education teacher, but didn't have
the time to adapt the curriculum. Others echoed this issue of teachers
not having enough time or energy for developing and adapting the
curriculum for students with disabilities. Another paraeducator further
expressed how the teacher with whom she worked was even apologetic about
how little attention and time had been given to curricular adaptations
due to being busy with other teaching responsibilities.
One paraeducator also noted how it was up to him to ask for ideas
and that teachers were generally open to this; however, paraeducators
felt it was up to them to ask for ideas only when he or she felt
"at a loss":
For the most part, paraeducators found themselves in situations in
which waiting for teachers and other professionals to make curricular
and teaching decisions was not feasible. Consequently, faced with the
need to provide daily academic activities and to make
"on-the-spot" modifications to the classroom activities,
paraeducators found themselves assuming primary responsibility for
day-to-day educational decisions.
Being the "Hub" and the "Expert"
One interesting subtheme that emerged was how paraeducators were
placed in the role of being a "hub," or being the liaison
between all the various individuals involved in the inclusion
student's school life. As one paraeducator put it, "Frankie is
a child with more resources available to him than any child I've
ever met." Intricately tied to this role of being the hub was being
in a position in which they needed to be able to incorporate a range of
suggestions and recommendations made by school team members.
On the other hand, many of the paraeducators felt that their daily
close contact with the inclusion student made them an expert on the
needs of the student with whom they worked. This feeling of being the
expert was reflected in how the paraeducators assumed primary
responsibility for managing student behaviors and for the day-to-day
academic and teaching roles. For example, one paraeducator noted how the
teacher didn't know the student well enough to know if it was a day
in which the student "had control over what he was doing ... and I
got to know him so well that I could tell pretty quickly in a day what
kind of shape he was in and if he had control." Further, most of
the paraeducators had received training throughout the year on positive
behavioral support strategies, resulting in them actually having more
knowledge about behavioral support plans and strategies than the
classroom teacher. One paraeducator expressed the dilemma of being an
expert, yet being in the position of implementing the various
suggestions made by others:
Being in their unique position of working closely with the student,
their job entailed negotiating, mediating, interpreting, and translating
the various suggestions presented to them by various members of the
school team. One paraeducator described this process as requiring her to
at times "blend" the various orientations and suggestions
presented to her. This often proved challenging, particularly when the
goals and expectations presented by a range of professionals and parents
appeared to conflict.
Paraeducators also talked about their unique position in working
with parents of inclusion students. Some found this challenging, while
others found the experience rewarding. However, it was also noted that
by virtue of their positions, parents often approached the paraeducators
for ongoing information as well as making educational suggestions
regarding what they wanted their child to learn. For example, one of the
paraeducators started developing strategies for teaching the inclusion
student how to count money, at the request of the parent. This tendency
for parents to communicate through the paraeducator also appeared to
contribute to the paraeducator feeling like they were the hub, or the
liaison between parents and school personnel and between school service
providers as well.
"Representing Inclusion" Advocacy and Feelings About
Sometimes being the hub or the expert included representing the
student and the idea of inclusion to the rest of the school community.
As one paraeducator reflected:
This sense of responsibility seemed to include the feeling that how
well the special education student actually did in the inclusive setting
would be a direct reflection on how school personnel would view the
paraeducator. Again, the success of the inclusion placement was assumed
by many of the paraeducators. Being in a position in which this success
appeared to be highly personalized, paraeducators expressed sensitivity
to how the school in general responded to the inclusion student as well
as the general concept of inclusion. For one student who required
significant academic modifications, the paraeducator noted how the
responses from the school as a whole had been "mixed."
One paraeducator also noted the "reputation" of the
student with whom she worked. To some extent, many of the paraeducators
felt that their students were fairly "high profile" in that
most students and faculty in a school knew of their students.
In another case, the paraeducator talked about how the school
personnel's perception of the inclusion student actually influenced
how they felt about her as a paraeducator:
Another paraeducator noted that the school personnel did not appear
to be supportive of inclusion for her student, which she found
surprising since this particular student had been at the same school for
most of her 5 years of schooling. This paraeducator described this lack
of support by talking about not feeling accepted herself:
As can be seen from these quotes, many of the paraeducators found
themselves in an advocacy role, one in which it was their responsibility
to work towards general acceptance of the inclusion student, or to
"represent" the student in a way that would support that
acceptance. This responsibility included educating others about the
student as well as educating others to the idea of inclusion. Being in a
position in which they had a close understanding of the special
education student, and oftentimes feeling that they were the only ones
in the school who knew the student, resulted in what many of the
paraeducators described as a feeling of isolation and loneliness in
their daily work. For example, one of the paraeducators noted the
importance of positive communication between teachers and the
paraeducators, "because sometimes the job can get down and
lonely." This theme was also expressed by another paraeducator, who
felt she was the only one in the school who truly understood the
student's disability (autism):
Not having others in the school with whom to share ideas about the
particular inclusion student further contributed to this feeling of
being on an island:
In a more positive light, one paraeducator described her role as
one of "interpreter" for the inclusion student:
Findings from this study are similar to findings reported in
Giangreco et al.'s (1997) study. While their study involved
primarily observational data and interview data gathered from school
personnel, the current study is based on interview data from
paraeducators. Interestingly, this essential difference in data sources
resulted in our looking at the same issues through a different
"lens." In combination, both studies depict descriptive
accounts of paraeducators in inclusive settings. Although not originally
intended when we set out to examine paraeducators' experiences, the
current article has provided a context for understanding some of the
observations noted in Giangreco et al.'s study. Both studies raise
serious dilemmas about how paraeducators meet their job
responsibilities; and both studies, for the most part, arrived at the
same conclusions. This is despite the different methodologies, the
different sample groups, the different student disabilities, and the
different geographic regions. These parallels are listed in Figure 2.
Parallel Findings from Giangreco et al. (1997) and Current Study
In general, given their unique position in which meeting the needs
of the student with whom they worked was so essential, paraeducators
utilized whatever means they had available to ensure that the classroom
teacher and the student would have a positive experience. This sense of
responsibility led some paraeducators to feel that it was entirely up to
them to ensure that the inclusion student received some educational
benefits; and many felt that they were the only ones who truly
understood the needs of the inclusion student. Additionally, many felt
that a teacher's view of their own performance would be based on
not having the student be too much of a "burden" on the
teacher. Further, we have observed that many of the classroom teachers
appear to be comfortable with this arrangement as well. For example, one
paraeducator expressed that "most teachers were receptive and
enjoyed having him [the student] in their class, mainly because he
wasn't a lot of work.... [and] a couple of teachers really relied
on the fact that I was there to help him out." Others felt that
some teachers were just "glad of not having the
Just as other researchers have noted (Baker & Zigmond, 1990;
Janney & Snell, 1997; McIntosh et al., 1993), the picture that
emerges from interviews with paraeducators is that inclusion students,
although generally accepted, are not necessarily included in the overall
curriculum planning for the class as a whole. In other words, most of
the teachers appeared to act as "hosts." Without the presence
of the paraeducator, the educational benefits for the inclusion student
would have been extremely minimal. On the other hand, it might be
possible that because the paraeducator assumed this role, teachers never
really felt the need to make these types of adaptations. Still, based on
previous research findings by others (e.g., Janney & Snell; McIntosh
et al., 1993; Zigmond & Baker, 1994), it is equally unlikely that
the presence of the paraeducators precluded teachers' efforts to
make the necessary curricular modifications.
One paradox in how paraeducators negotiated their roles and
responsibilities relates to the issue of feeling like, and possibly
being perceived by teachers as, the "expert." As was expressed
by the paraeducators, many of them felt as though they were the expert
on their particular student. This expertise extended to not only knowing
the student's abilities and disability, but also in knowing how to
manage challenging behaviors. Previous research has indicated that
general education teachers do not have the training to address
challenging behaviors (Bassett et al., 1996; Lewis et al., 1994). In
this particular area, it would appear as though the paraeducators did
actually have more training and experience. In addition, many of the
paraeducators noted that they found a lot of satisfaction in their role
as being the expert. The highly personal nature of the relationship that
evolved between the paraeducator and the inclusion student appeared to
contribute to a deep sense of personal reward for the paraeducator.
Consequently, the combination of teachers not necessarily pushing for a
more primary role and the paraeducator appearing to find satisfaction in
being the expert may have hindered the process of teachers eventually
assuming primary responsibility for the inclusion student.
In conclusion, it appears that some of the responsibilities,
although "accepted" by the teachers and paraeducators, could
not be viewed as ideally "acceptable" for supporting inclusive
practices. Paraeducators feeling responsible for the success of
inclusion students might be viewed as an acceptable role; however,
assuming sole responsibility rather than a shared one with the classroom
teacher cannot be viewed as acceptable. This shared responsibility,
although difficult to create, is the missing ingredient in the inclusive
practices reported in this study, resulting in too many of the
paraeducators "holding their own."
LIMITATIONS OF THE STUDY
There are several limitations to this study. One is that the
experiences of these paraeducators may not be reflective of other
paraeducators working in inclusive settings. This is due to several
factors. First, these paraeducators worked with students who presented
challenging behaviors, and their experiences could be quite different
from paraeducators working with other student populations. Second, these
paraeducators were employed by an outside agency which provides
supervision and consultation, and this may have influenced how these
paraeducators were viewed by the school community. For example, the
level of expertise may have been viewed as high because of the
consultation and training provided as well as the overall reputation of
the agency as hiring highly qualified personnel. In fact, the
educational and experience levels of the paraeducators in this study was
quite high, and they received more supervision and training than is
typical of paraeducators in other settings. These factors may have
influenced the level of involvement of the teachers.
Methodologically, the study has limitations due to our reliance on
interview data from only the paraeducators. Teachers were not
interviewed nor were observations conducted which would have allowed for
further triangulation of the data (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). In
addition, results of this study need to be viewed cautiously due to the
relatively small sample involved.
IMPLICATIONS FOR PRACTICE
In reviewing the findings from this study, we realize that
questions may be raised regarding the appropriateness of using
paraeducators for supporting inclusion students. This is certainly a
complex issue and is beyond the scope of this study. However, we have
observed that in many schools, use of paraeducators appears to be the
only means for placing special education students who have challenging
behaviors in inclusive settings. As others have noted (e.g., Braaten et
al., 1988; MacMillan et al., 1996), students with challenging behaviors
will likely continue to be some of the most difficult students to place
in inclusive settings due to general education teachers' lack of
special training in behavioral supports and curricular modifications
(Bassett et al., 1996; Lewis et al., 1994; MacMillan et al.). Given
these issues, we believe it is important to focus on both teachers'
and paraeducators' needs by addressing the following:
* Ongoing collaborative meetings for sharing expertise areas and
for discussing and clarifying areas of responsibility, including
strategies and a plan for "fading" the level of support
provided by the paraeducator.
* Training for both teachers and paraeducators on the goals of
inclusive practices, including specific skill areas, such as curricular
and academic modifications and positive behavioral support strategies.
* Increased research efforts to identify strategies for meeting the
above components along with additional strategies as identified by
individuals in the field (teachers and paraeducators). Research efforts
also need to include an examination of the effects of these strategies.
Ongoing Collaborative Meetings for Sharing Expertise Areas
Bringing together all the team members of a special education
student's program takes considerable effort and time (Bassett et
al., 1996; Fox & Ysseldyke, 1997; Wolery et al., 1995; Wood, 1998).
Yet, as can be seen from this study, it is an extremely important
component. Certainly, more collaborative meetings in which the expertise
of the teachers (from both special and general education) and the
expertise of the paraeducator are utilized needs to be promoted. In this
way, paraeducators and teachers can share their expertise: paraeducators
on student information and teachers on educational and curricular
decision-making strategies. In addition, classroom teachers can begin to
develop expertise around the inclusion student, instead of the
paraeducator being the sole holder of this knowledge. Paraeducators, in
turn, can begin to provide more effective and educationally beneficial
learning strategies for the student, rather than making on-the-spot
activity decisions which may meet the immediate objective of engaging
the student, but may not have sufficient long-term educational benefits.
These ongoing and regular discussions between teachers and
paraeducators need to also include defining the teacher's and the
paraeducator's roles and responsibilities. As Giangreco et al.
(1997) also concluded, "school teams need to explicitly clarify the
role of the classroom teacher as the instructional leader in the
classroom including their roles and responsibilities as the teacher for
the students with disabilities" (p. 16). As part of school team
discussions, it is important to broach the issue of allowing
paraeducators to take some risks, to begin to shift their attention to
the class as a whole and to encourage teachers to take a more active
role with the inclusion student. Interestingly, paraeducators reported
that many of the inclusion students who were close to grade level,
regardless of severity of problem behaviors, for the most part were able
to be more independent as the year progressed. In other words, as the
student's behaviors became increasingly managed, the classroom
teacher was gradually able to assume primary responsibility for the
student. However, for those students needing instructional adaptations,
paraeducators continued to play a prominent role. This would indicate
that assuming primary responsibility for providing curricular
modifications and adaptations may present more significant and ongoing
challenges for classroom teachers.
Including "fading plans" is another important strategy
for clarifying the roles and responsibilities of the paraeducators and
classroom teachers. We have developed such plans as part of the
individualized education program (IEP) meetings as well as during
planning meetings. Through this process, the goal of having the
paraeducator shift attention to the whole classroom rather than just
focusing on the inclusion student is made explicit and increases
accountability for keeping this general goal at the forefront. For
example, beginning with "low-risk" times, we have been
successful in gradually increasing the paraeducator's proximity
levels from the inclusion student. However, we have found that this
process also needs to include natural supports (e.g., teacher reminders,
peer supports, written instructions) in order to replace the support
levels that were previously provided by the paraeducator.
Training for Paraeducators, Teachers, and Other School Personnel
Further training for paraeducators, teachers, and school personnel
is absolutely necessary. Teachers in particular may not feel comfortable
with, nor have many of them had training in, positive behavioral support
strategies or in curricular modifications for special education
students. Providing sufficient release time and opportunities to learn
these important strategies will be essential if teachers are to assume
greater responsibility for inclusion students with challenging
behaviors. If teachers feel they lack this knowledge, they will most
likely continue to defer this responsibility to the paraeducator,
especially if that paraeducator has specific training in that area.
Ironically, in our own practice, we offer training to the paraeducators,
but classroom teachers do not typically attend these training sessions
due to time constraints. Unfortunately, providing training to
paraeducators, although very much needed as mentioned by others (French
& Pickett, 1997; Giangreco et al., 1997), can increase the
possibility that teachers leave the paraeducators to manage on their
own. Clearly, based on this study, simply providing consultation and
training to paraeducators is not sufficient and may inadvertently
perpetuate paraeducators assuming an unbalanced (and in our view,
unacceptable) responsibility for inclusion students. Therefore, it is
critical that classroom teachers be provided with this training as well.
Further, as French and Pickett have noted, it is important for teachers
to be provided training on how to supervise paraprofessionals,
especially in how to coordinate instructional efforts to better meet the
needs of inclusion students.
For the paraeducators, there is a need for training regarding the
goals of inclusive practices and their roles in that process. This
training needs to include examining what inclusion is and how to work as
a team member, including working with and communicating with parents. In
other words, we may need to redefine what successful inclusive practices
look like, from a vision where inclusion students are simply maintained
in general education classrooms and teachers respond in generally
positive ways towards the inclusion student, to one in which the
inclusion student is supported in his or her membership in the classroom
(Storey, 1993; Taylor, 1988).
Paraeducators will also need ongoing support and supervision by a
special educator assigned to overseeing the inclusion student's
educational needs. Too often, in our experience, special educators
assigned to this role have high caseloads, resulting in extremely
limited time for the level of ongoing support that is necessary for
daily academic and curricular modifications. Again, in the absence of
such resources, paraeducators will likely continue to assume roles that
others more qualified should assume.
Increased Research Efforts
As noted by Giangreco et al. (1997) and others (French &
Pickett, 1997; Wolery et al., 1995), we would concur that further
research to both identify improved practices for utilizing paraeducators
in inclusive settings, along with the impact and outcomes of these
practices is absolutely necessary. Further, we believe in the importance
of continuing to include the voices and perspectives of all involved in
the complex task of educating special education students in inclusive
settings. In other words, although observations can reveal descriptions
of a practice, examining individual experiences can help us to
understand the context that contributes to such observations; and, it is
this understanding of the context that can inform our efforts to improve
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(*) To order books referenced in this journal please call 24
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Use Visa, M/C, or AMEX or send check or money order + $4.95 S&H
($2.50 each add'l item) to: BooksNow, 448 E. 6400 South, Suite 125,
Salt Lake City, UT 84107.
SUSAN UNOK MARKS (CEC #127), Clinical Supervisor; CARL SCHRADER,
Co-Director; and MARK LEVINE, Co-Director, Behavioral Counseling and
Research Center, San Rafael, CA.
Address correspondence to Carl Schrader, 454 Las Gallinas Avenue,
No. 131, San Rafael, CA 94903.
The authors wish to thank all of the paraeducators who participated
in this study. In particular, we wish to thank Lara Cox for not only
participating in this study, but also providing her insights as a
Manuscript received March 1998; revision accepted August 1998.
the use of paraprofessionals in the classroom has not been extensively
researched ... [and] further research is needed to determine how decisions
are made to provide teaching assistants, how they are used in inclusive
classrooms, and the training they need to support the general education
teacher. (p. 24)
It felt like a lot of pressure [being in the inclusive setting] because I
... didn't want her [the inclusion student] to disturb the others and I
didn't want her to disturb the teacher. So I felt responsible for every
single little sound she made.
When I went into this experience, I was expecting a child who just needed
academic support and adaptations, and it was really all behavioral ... but
[I was] just trying to maintain a calm demeanor around him, when really I
was very frustrated and a lot of times, very unsure of what to do.
I would address a behavior as it arose, before it got to a point where
she'd [the teacher] notice it, and so there wasn't an opportunity for her
to set a lot of limits with him, because ... I never let it get to that
When he [the student] had control, the teacher ... would usually be the
first person to [intervene] .... Sometimes she would even have him sit in a
chair. That was her way of disciplining him ... and when he was in control
of himself, he really did very well in those situations ... And, again, if
it was a day when he had no control ... I would usually pull him from that
activity right away, and do something else. She didn't know him well enough
to know real well if it was a day he had control over what he was doing.
What happens is that they [teachers] leave it up to the aide to do a lot of
the work.... But for the most part, the teachers are the ones to create the
curriculum for the child, and modify it. And that takes time.... It usually
takes a lot of modifications so the child can participate more in the
class.... And it was left for me to initiate, and they would say, "Oh, that
sounds like a great idea" ... And I would end up doing it, and trying it.
The teachers I've been able to work with have been really open--receptive
to everything about the program. I think I can walk up to a teacher and ask
them what they're doing in class and then sometimes if I'm just at a loss,
they'll give me some ideas on some alterations I can make to the curriculum
whether it's simplifying it, or altering it in some way ... but I don't do
that very often, probably only about once a month.
I felt like ... I was very much the hub, with the spokes coming in....
Sometimes I felt like it was hard to be the liaison, or the hub, the person
who was the closest, but with the least to say.... It was just a
frustrating situation to be in, as an assistant without the degree that
gives me the right to say, "Well, my expertise tells me that this is the
It really matters so much, the ... personality of the assistant, because
you're the one ... you represent him. I represent Chris at work, to the
other staff members. (All names are pseudonyms.) I represent the project of
full inclusion. And it's not always a popular project; it's not a popular
thing to start. And, just how well I get along with the staff members, I
think, really mattered.
What I get from a lot of people is that they don't really see that Cory is
intelligent. They see the disability. They don't see beyond it. It's a
weekly event that somebody will sit down and say, "Well, you know, how can
you expect her to learn to read and write," or "I don't understand why the
parents want her to learn to read or write." And it's a lot of education,
talking to people about the student, "Well, you know she is very capable,
she learns at a slower rate because of her disability, but she is quite
capable of functioning as a normal student." With the adaptations, of
Absolutely everyone knows his name. In the beginning it was hard, because
literally, he would be tantrumming in the middle of the hall, he'd be
screaming.... I mean, everybody knew he was there. And there were a lot of
people who just avoided the situation.... And you know, many people would
say to me at the end of the day, "You know, I don't know how you do it." I
had one teacher who said to me, "Well at least you're the only person who
can see some good in him."
Each teacher has their own personality, just like we all do ... and
everyone has their opinion of what special ed is ... And some of them have
very much different attitudes about what my role is. So, I get the
sloughed-off opinions ... it's like what they think of him [the student]
gets sloughed off on to me.
I have never felt very accepted in that school, personally. Or, you know,
just the talk I've heard that they didn't agree. And still today, they
think that Wendy should be in a special day class and she doesn't belong in
a regular classroom.
I'm on an island, basically; we're alone ... just Paul and me out there.
Nobody else knows anything about his disability.... People don't have the
experience, the resource teacher didn't have experience, the teacher.... I
don't think anybody at my school knows anybody else with autism.
[The biggest challenge was] the isolation of the work itself. Being
isolated, feeling like an island, as far as in the environment I was
working in.... I felt sometimes that, although the kids in the classroom
were very supportive, we were sort of on an island.... Even in the special
ed environment, you have other aides and other teachers you can discuss
things and pass by them.
My attention and my care goes to one student; and in the life of that
student; I interact with all the adults that he interacts with.... And then
to speak to the teachers, to be an advocate for my student, to be in the
middle of the adult world and his world makes me a kind of interpreter for
Selected relevant findings Parallel findings from cur-
from Giangreco et al. (1997) rent study
Instructional assistants were Not being a "bother" to the
in close proximity to students teacher,
on an ongoing basis,
Interference with ownership Being the "hub" and the
and responsibility by general "expert."
Limitations on receiving Meeting student's immediate
competent instruction, academic needs
Selected relevant findings Proposed explanations from
from Giangreco et al. (1997) current study
Instructional assistants were Paraeducators felt primarily
in close proximity to students responsible for successful in-
on an ongoing basis, clusion experiences; para-
educators did not want the
teacher to feel "burdened" by
the addition of an inclusion
student in their classroom.
Interference with ownership Paraeducators were given
and responsibility by general suggestions by professionals
educators, and parents, making them
the "hub" and the "expert,"
rather than the classroom
teacher; paraeducators and
teachers appeared to have an
implicit negotiated agree-
ment involving less teacher
Limitations on receiving Paraeducators felt alone with
competent instruction, having to make on-the-spot
curricular and academic
modifications due to lack of
teacher and other school per-