The Role of Paraprofessionals

Earlier this week I posted a reply to an inquiry on a listserv for professionals in blindness education. After doing so, I thought this would be appropriate for my blog, So, here it is.

Original question to the list from a TVI:

“I am giving a presentation to parents about the parts of the IEP that are specific to visually impaired students. I have a question for anyone who wishes to answer. Many TVI’s use paras to teach Braille and other skills. When would you use a para for this and what should that individual’s qualifications be?”

My response:

Ideally, I would argue that paras are mostly there to assist you as the certified teacher of blind students or TVI with things like transcribing, preparing materials, assisting a child in class, etc. . Since you are the one with the specialization, degree, and or certification to teach blind students, ideally you should be providing the bulk of the Braille instruction to your students. I would recommend generally that paras be used as back ups when you as the TBS cannot provide the Braille

instruction yourself due to other priority duties, high case loads, etc. However, I

Recognize that we don’t live in an ideal educational world, so if a para is going to assist in teaching Braille, I would recommend that these

Individuals are fluent in both contracted and uncontracted Braille; know how to use a Braille writer and slate so that they can also teach these tools,

and know basic Braille rules, i.e., when certain signs take precedence, when you use certain signs like where syllables might divide a word in the

middle of a contraction–know what the rule is for these kinds of words, etc. (e.g.

you don’t use the ea sign in writing the word east). I would also recommend that if paras are going to teach Braille, they also have knowledge in Nemoth

code–at least the basics so that this is also taught along side literary Braille as it corresponds to the child’s math learning. (e.g. kindergartener should be learning nemoth numbers at the same time their peers are learning numbers; and function signs like plus, minus, divide,

and multiply should be introduced in nemoth at the same time the student is learning them in class.)

With respect to teaching other skills, I would apply the same philosophy. You are the certified teacher and therefore ideally should be providing the direct instruction, and the paras should be there to assist

you–help prepare the materials and transcribe so that your time is more free to provide such instruction, help make your job easier, and to help reinforce the skills you are teaching when you are not with that student.

Just my thoughts.

There are so many thoughts here on which I could elaborate, but basically for this post, I just want to get the point across of how paraprofessionals should be used ideally in the classroom and what I believe the role of the teacher of blind students really is. I think so often we forget that TBS’ aren’t just there to make sure the student’s materials are in accessible formats. They are there primarily to provide direct instruction in the skills of blindness: learning to read and write Braille, cane travel, problem solving, organization and time management, daily living skills, transitional skills, advocacy skills, and how to use assistive technology—just to name a few.