A Paraeducator's Perspective: More to Support Professionals Than Meets the Eye

August 8th was my first day back to work. The night before, unable to sleep, I started thinking about all of the things I want to accomplish this year at Wooster City Schools. I have eight libraries that need attention and updating. I have books to read, book talks to prepare, supplies and new books to order, pathfinders to write, processing and cataloging to complete, and this is just the tip of the iceberg. I also have staff to train, and conferences to attend. In addition, I will be serving on boards in professional organizations and hope to serve my first year as a union representative. Not many people know all that I contribute or how much I am responsible for, but obviously it is far more than just checking books in or out.

Just like so many other support staff in the field of teaching, librarians are seen as the fringe elements of the profession, not as important as core instructors, and, in most districts, the first to go when funds get tight.  Unless we toot our own horns, we go unnoticed, and many in the community forget that a well-rounded education needs support staff with a variety of teaching skills to enhance students’ school experience.

Although I earned a specialization in ESL during my training as a student teacher at the University of California at Irvine and I was given a variety of  students who spoke other languages during my California career, no one knew how many small groups I had to work with in my class or how many lesson plans I had to prepare in a week to address everyone’s needs. I was a teacher, but not a “normal” classroom teacher by any means.

In 2000, when I moved back to Ohio, I was employed three years as a special education resource teacher. I also completed my MLIS from Kent State during that time. Both professions support core teachers and in both jobs I have felt isolated at times and missed the collegiality of belonging to a “team.” The support staff doesn’t have much time to socialize or collaborate.

But I always love it when another colleague or an administrator reaches out to ask for an idea. At Wooster my superintendent, principals and other staff members often stop by to see what’s new. They often show me new technologies when they find them or ask me to create lesson plans just so their students can see something different from an information specialist. No two days are ever alike and I guess that’s why I love my job.  I’m not invited to department meetings, but whenever someone stops by the library workroom to chat, I feel like I am needed and appreciated for what I do.

Each day as I prepare for my forty-five minute drive to Wooster, I am eager to get started in the library. This fall I know many of my colleagues have been laid off or moved back into a classroom, so I feel fortunate that my position has not been eliminated. When the new school year starts, please take a moment to talk to a support staff member and make them feel like they are a part of the team. Invite them a to a department meeting, collaborate with them in an activity, or just ask them about their job and what they do. Small gestures can mean so much, especially at a time when all public school employees seem so unappreciated.

By Susan Ridgeway, Wooster Education Association



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