Starting Off on the Right Foot: Getting Acquainted

How do I do a Getting Acquainted Interview?

Getting to know the individual or team that will provide supervision is of primary importance to the paraeducator. One way for school professionals and newly employed paraeducators to get to know one another is to have a structured initial conversation. The Getting Acquainted Questions can help two people get acquainted. You may want to ask other questions that will help you get to know the new person. The structured conversation is not meant to replace a hiring interview. It is meant to occur at the beginning of employment to help newly employed paraeducators gain knowledge of their fellow workers and to help team members get to know one another.

How do I compare my work style and preferences to that of the paraeducator's?

The first page, Teacher Work Style and Preferences, allows you to reflect on your own preferences and to share them with the paraeducator you work with. The paraeducator version, Paraeducator Work Style and Preferences allows the paraeducator to tell her preferences on the same kinds of items.

It is important for all team members to recognize that style preferences are not inherently good or bad, but that they do exist. The lack of initial recognition of differences often creates a breeding ground for interpersonal problems between paraeducators and professionals. Managing differences from the start means that the team members must note differences in work style preferences, recognizing that preferences are just that-preferences. They are not flaws or personality defects, but simple likes and dislikes. And everyone is different.

How do I create a personalized job description?

Paraeducators deserve to know what is expected of them. Many teachers haven't thought carefully about what the paraeducator should or shouldn't do. But, once you've reviewed the tools on legal, ethical, and liability considerations regarding the types of tasks paraeducators perform, and you've examined the material on sharing supervisory responsibilities, you are equipped to handle the task of creating a personalized paraeducator job description. There are four steps after you've conducted the work style and preferences analysis described above.

Step 1: Create a task list for paraeducators.

The first step is to analyze all the tasks that need to be performed for the paraeducator program to function, for students to thrive, and for the paraeducator's own needs to be met. The Master List of Tasks and Duties can be used to help professionals list all the possible duties. Professionals who work together may want to create one master list or each professional may want to create his or her own master list. Either way, such a list represents categories of tasks that typically need to be done to ensure student success at school and to maintain the program, the team relationship, the classroom, and the work climate.

Adapt your master list to fit the characteristics of your program, students and professionals. For example, professionals in a preschool program might eliminate some tasks (e.g., giving spelling tests) and keep others (e.g., self-help, read to students). They might also add tasks that are specific to a program (e.g., work on articulation skills with children). Professionals in a vocational preparation program, on the other hand, might reword a task such as "Help students in drill and practice lessons," to read "Help students apply basic computational skills on the job" to reflect the differences in programmatic emphasis, as well as the age and needs of students. Again, the wide variety of programs, professionals, and student needs precludes the possibility of creating a single list that is entirely useful in all situations. The examples presented are intended as starters from which professionals can create unique lists that address their own program needs.

Step 2: Ask paraeducator to review list.

The second step is to invite the paraeducator to review the list(s), considering his or her skills, knowledge, and areas of confidence. While it is not necessary to use forms to perform the analysis and comparison, a systematic format, once created, saves time in the future and assures team members that they have addressed all relevant issues. The companion to the Master List of Tasks and Duties is the Paraeducator Task Preparation and Confidence Inventory. It may be given to the paraeducator to obtain his or her input.

Step 3: Analyze the list.

The third step occurs after the list is made and the paraeducator has responded to it. This step is essentially a needs vs. preferences analysis in which the professional examines both the master list and the paraeducator's responses to the items to decide which tasks will become an immediate part of the expectations for the paraeducator and which tasks require further preparation.

Step 4: Create a personalized job description.

The fourth step of defining the job involves creating a personalized job description. Items on which there is a scoring match (that is, the professional needs the task done and the paraeducator agrees that he or she is prepared to perform it) automatically become part of the personalized job description. Items for which the need exists, but paraeducator preparation or confidence are lacking, deserve examination and individual evaluation. You will want to negotiate with the paraeducator on these items. The inventories become the vehicle by which these important negotiations are structured. Tasks that the professional needs, but that are not matched by paraeducator training or confidence, may be treated in one of three ways. They may be listed as expected tasks, in which case training must be immediate. They may be listed as future tasks, following appropriate preparation. Or, they may be eliminated completely. You decide.


Is creating a personalized job description in conflict with the job description my district uses or the union agrees upon?

The personalized job description should never exceed the limitations imposed by the official district position description or go beyond the duties prescribed by union agreements. This is generally not a problem because the items listed in the Master List of Tasks and Duties and in the Paraeducator Task Preparation and Confidence Inventory are just specific examples of the general categories that are typically found on official position descriptions and are well within the scope of legal and ethical tasks.

For example, one category typically found on a paraeducator position description is "Assist with Instruction." Rarely do official position descriptions specify what such assistance is composed of. The personalized job description gives definition to the category by describing the specific actions to be taken by the paraeducator.