Paraeducator Experiences in Inclusive Settings: Helping, Hovering, or Holding Their Own?
The perspectives and experiences of 20 paraeducators working with inclusion students with disabilities who also present significant behavioral challenges were investigated in this research. The inclusion students were in Grades K through 8 and represented a range of disability categories (e.g., autism spectrum disorder, serious emotional disturbance [SED], learning disability, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder [AD/HD]). Findings from this study indicate that paraeducators tend to assume high levels of responsibility for managing the academic and behavioral needs for special education students in inclusive settings. This tendency appears to be due to the nature of the job, which can create conflicting roles in meeting both the needs of inclusion students as well as those of general education teachers.

Teachers' assistants (Evaluation)
Exceptional children (Education)
Pub Date:
Name: Exceptional Children Publisher: Council for Exceptional Children Audience: Academic; Professional Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Education; Family and marriage Copyright: COPYRIGHT 1999 Council for Exceptional Children ISSN: 0014-4029
Date: Spring, 1999 Source Volume: 65 Source Issue: 3
Accession Number:
Full Text:
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) note:


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 analysis.

Study Participants

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 categories:

* Years of experience, education, and age.

* Special education student information and primary areas of support.

* Descriptions of working relationships with the teacher and the school.

* Interesting and challenging aspects of the job.

* Whether the overall experience was perceived as positive or negative.

Quotes that were identified as exemplars were transcribed verbatim into the matrix in order to more accurately capture the words of the paraeducator.

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 day.

* 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 classroom activities.

* 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.

Representing inclusion.

* 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 the teacher":

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 storm."

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 rarely occurred:

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 Inclusion

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 responsibility."

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."


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.


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 practice.


Algozzine, B., Maheady, L. , Sacca, K. C., O'Shea, L., & O'Shea, D. (1990). Sometimes patent medicine works: A reply to Braaten, Kauffman, Braaten, Polsgrove, and Nelson. Exceptional Children, 56, 552-557.

Baker, J. M., & Zigmond, N. (1990). Are regular education classes equipped to accommodate students with learning disabilities? Exceptional Children, 56, 515-526.

Bassett, D. S., Jackson, L., Ferrell, K. A., Luckner, J., Hagerty, P. J., Bunsen, T. D., & MacIsaac, D. (1996). Multiple perspectives on inclusive education: Reflections of a university faculty. Teacher Education and Special Education, 19(4), 355-386.

Blackman, H. P. (1989). Special education placement: Is it what you know or where you live? Exceptional Children, 55, 459-462.

Braaten, S., Kauffman, J. M., Braaten, B., Polsgrove, L., & Nelson, M. C. (1988). The regular education initiative: Patent medicine for behavioral disorders. Exceptional Children, 55, 21-27.

Doyle, M. B. (1997). The paraprofessional's guide to the inclusive classroom. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes.(*)

Evans, I. M., Salisbury, C. L., Palombaro, M. M., Berryman, S., & Hollowood, T. M. (1992). Peer interactions and social acceptance of elementary-age children with severe disabilities in an inclusive school. Journal of the Association for Persons with Severe Handicaps, 157, 205-212.

Fox, N. E., & Ysseldyke, J. E. (1997). Implementing inclusion at the middle school level: Lessons from a negative example. Exceptional Children, 64, 81-98.

French, N. K., & Pickett, A. L. (1997). Paraprofessionals in special education: Issues for teacher educators. Teacher Education and Special Education, 20(1), 61-73.

Fuchs, D., & Fuchs, L. S. (1994). Inclusive schools' movement and the radicalization of special education reform. Exceptional Children, 60, 294-309.

Giangreco, M. E, Edelman, S. W., Luiselli, T. E., & MacFarland, S. Z. C. (1997). Helping or hovering? Effects of instructional assistant proximity on students with disabilities. Exceptional Children, 64, 7-18.

Janney, R. E., & Snell, M. E. (1997). How teachers include students with moderate and severe disabilities in elementary classes: The means and meaning of inclusion. Journal of the Association for Persons with Severe Handicaps, 22(3), 159-169.

Kauffman, J. M. (1993). How we might achieve the radical reform of special education. Exceptional Children, 60, 6-16.

Kennedy, C. H., Shukla, S., Fryxell, D. (1997). Comparing the effects of educational placement on the social relationships of intermediate school students with severe disabilities. Exceptional Children, 64, 31-48.

Lewis, T. J., Chard, D., & Scott, T. M. (1994). Full inclusion and the education of children and youth with emotional and behavioral disorders. Behavioral Disorders, 19(4). 277-293.

Lincoln, Y., & Guba, E. (1985). Naturalistic inquiry. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.(*)

Lipsky, D. K., & Gartner, A. (1987). Capable of achievement and worthy of respect: Education for handicapped students as if they were full-fledged human beings. Exceptional Children, 54, 69-74.

MacMillan, D. L., Gresham, E M., & Forness, S. R. (1996). Full inclusion: An empirical perspective. Behavioral Disorders, 21(2), 145-159.

McIntosh, R., Vaughn, S., Schumm, J. S., Haager, D., & Lee, O. (1993). Observations of students with learning disabilities in general education classrooms. Exceptional Children, 60, 249-261.

Miles, M. B., & Huberman, A. M. (1994). Qualitative data analysis. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.(*)

National Association of State Boards of Education. (1990). Winners all: A call for inclusive schools. The report of the NASBE study group on special education. Alexandria, VA: Author.

Patton, M. Q. (1990). Qualitative evaluation and research methods (2nd ed.). Newberry Park, CA: Sage.(*)

Seidman, I. E. (1991). Interviewing as qualitative research: A guide for researchers in education and the social sciences. NY: Teachers College Press.(*)

Shrag, J. A. (1993). Restructuring schools for better alignment of general and special education. In J. Goodlad & T. Lovitt (Eds.), Integrating general and special education (pp. 203-228). New York: Macmillan.(*)

Storey, K. (1993). A proposal for assessing integration. Education and Training in Mental Retardation, 28(4), 279-287.

Strauss, A., & Corbin, J. (1990). Basics of qualitative research: Grounded theory procedures and techniques. Newberry Park, CA: Sage.(*)

Taylor, S. J. (1988). Caught in the continuum: A critical analysis of the principle of least restrictive environment. Journal of the Association for Persons with Severe Handicaps, 13, 41-53.

Will, M. C. (1986). Educating children with learning problems: A shared responsibility. Exceptional Children, 52, 411-415.

Wolery, M., Werts, M. G., Caldwell, N. K., Snyder, E. D., & Lisowski, L. (1995). Experienced teachers' perceptions of resources and supports for inclusion. Education and Training in Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities, 30(1), 15-26.

Wood, M. (1998). Whose job is it anyway? Educational roles in inclusion. Exceptional Children, 64, 181-195.

Zigmond, N., & Baker, J. M. (1994). Is the mainstream a more appropriate educational setting for Randy? A case study of one student with learning disabilities. Learning Disabilities Research and Practice, 9(2), 108-117.

(*) To order books referenced in this journal please call 24 hrs/365 days: (800) BOOKS-NOW (266-5766) or (801) 261-1187, or visit them on the Web at http://www.BooksNow. com/Exceptional Children.htm. 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 paraeducator.

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
   my student.

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-
                                 sonnel time.
Gale Copyright:
Copyright 1999 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.