Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Respect, Appreciation, and Acknowledgment of Paraprofessionals Who Support Students with Disabilities

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Respect, Appreciation, and Acknowledgment of Paraprofessionals Who Support Students with Disabilities

Article excerpt

Stand-up comedian Rodney Dangerfield, is famous for his signature line, "I don't get no respect!" [sic] He made a career building his humor on the notion that he was not respected and was under-appreciated by virtually everyone--his wife, his kids, his boss, his friends, even total strangers. We cannot help but wonder, are paraprofessionals the Rodney Dangerfields of public education? We have been prompted to ask this question because we have heard a steady stream of comments from paraprofessionals over a period of several years regarding their perceptions about receiving respect, appreciation, and acknowledgment. We decided it was time to study this issue more systematically.

There is no dispute that paraprofessionals are an integral part of the educational landscape. Nowhere is the critical role of paraprofessionals more evident than in general education classes where students with disabilities are being included with classmates who do not have disabilities (Doyle, 1997; Freschi, 1999; Wadsworth & Knight, 1996).

Over the past decade, the literature on paraprofessionals has been dominated by non-databased articles and books that primarily addressed topics such as role clarification, orientation and training, hiring and assigning, and supervision (Boomer, 1994; French & Pickett, 1997; Hilton & Gerlach, 1997; Jones & Bender, 1993; Palma, 1994; Parsons & Reid, 1999; Pickett & Gerlach, 1997; Salzberg & Morgan, 1995; Steckelberg & Vasa, 1998). A smaller subset of the nondatabased literature specifically addressed paraprofessional supports for students with disabilities within general education classrooms (Brown, Farrington, Ziegler, Knight, & Ross, 1999; Doyle, 1997; Giangreco, Broer, & Edelman, 1999; Hammeken, 1996; Kotkin, 1995; Palladino, Cornoldi, Vianello, Scruggs, & Mastropieri, 1999) and other integrated settings such as community-based work sites (Rogan & Held, 1999). Except for somewhat standard statements about their importance, we identified a lone, three-page, nondatabased article that focused the issues of respect, appreciation, or acknowledgment of paraprofessionals (Palma).

Similarly, the databased literature does not substantially address the issues of respect, appreciation, or acknowledgment of paraprofessionals. This literature also has been dominated by topics such as role clarification (French & Chopra, 1999; Lamont & Hill, 1991; Welch, Richards, Okada, Richards, & Prescott, 1995), training (Hall, McClannahan, & Krantz, 1995), and paraprofessionals' interactions with students (Giangreco, Edelman, Luiselli, & MacFarland, 1997; Marks, Schrader & Levine, 1999; Shukla, Kennedy, & Cushing, 1999; Storey, Smith, & Strain, 1993).

In their study of three rural states, Passaro, Pickett, Latham, and HongBo (1994) reported paraprofessional shortages and attrition that were attributed to a variety of factors, one of which was perceived lack of respect. Other key factors identified could also be viewed as being related to lack of respect; these included low wages, limited opportunities for advancement, and lack of administrative support. In identifying them as critical members of educational teams, Hofmeister, Ashbaker, and Morgan (1996) reported low job satisfaction among paraprofessionals. A study by Prest (1993) explored the relationship between the job satisfaction of instructional assistants and the leadership behaviors of the teachers with whom they worked. Prest found that the actions of the professional staff who directed the work of paraprofessionals had a significant impact on the job satisfaction of those paraprofessionals.

These studies highlight the importance of considering various aspects of respect, appreciation, and acknowledgment of paraprofessionals as important factors in attracting and retaining them. These data also suggest that respect and acknowledgment extends beyond a "pat on the back," words or encouragement, or other symbolic gestures of appreciation. …

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