I’ve spent most of this school year working as a one-on-one paraprofessional for a student with cerebral palsy and bound to a wheelchair.

I can’t lie; it was a frustrating year. I’m not teaching or working as an administrator, for which I have degrees and certification. To make matters worse, I’m making less than a third of what I’d earn as a teacher. The teachers and administrators know about and sympathize with my frustrations, but I obviously had to press on. It’s been a difficult year for the teachers in the building, too, as the district (like most others) is not renewing a lot of contracts.

But anyone who knows me knows that the job also brought me considerable joy. It is easier for me to focus on a student’s best interest than my own frustrations or staff politics. It was tempting to start my job this year with an attitude of superiority because of my over-qualifications for the position, but I didn’t. As a result, I have learned a lot this year.

  • The district provided me MANDT training. Surprisingly, my last school did not want to should the liability of having teachers physically supporting students. The workshops in January were much better than expected, and we got free food (Godfathers and Hy-Vee).
  • A nonoperational button for the handicap assist on the front door is a cruel joke. My student pushed it every morning, and nothing happened. Sure, it’s cruel, but it’s still a joke, which means it was hilarious.
  • Never assume you know anything about what students do on their weekends. You will almost always be surprised.
  • I interacted much more with students with autism than ever before. One of these guys is almost nonverbal, but by the end of the year, we could greet each other in the hallway. One time, he even asked me to help with a Soduku puzzle.
  • It was not required of me, but I researched cerebral palsy. Between that and weekly discussions with the district’s visiting physical therapist, I learned quite a bit about the disorder.
  • Even schools with disgruntled teachers can have one or two great administrators.
  • Students open up about a lot of personal stuff when you’re running around a track with them during gym class. This is usually a good thing.
  • If you’re going to ride your bicycle to school, bring shorts to change into after work. The afternoon is usually warmer than the morning.



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