If the state of Florida is serious about helping each child succeed in school and reaching their full potential as an adult, it needs to conduct business radically different. I propose that the hundreds of millions of dollars being wasted on high-stakes testing and other gifts to private corporations instead be plowed into putting a well-trained Paraprofessional (Teacher’s aide) in every classroom, in every school. Adding one adult to a classroom would provide astounding benefits and educational gains for the children, make the lead teacher much more effective and provide a less stressful and more pleasant atmosphere in the classroom in general. It will also take care of several serious problems that are facing teachers and children that all the testing in the world won’t even touch.
The first problem is how to help those students that are really struggling and are performing below grade level. The biggest challenge that a teacher faces daily is how to give each child the instruction that they need to succeed. The reality is that in a classroom with dozens of children, even if they are the same age, they are not the same mental age. The range of abilities that children bring to the school are often years apart and teaching one thing to all of them is going to miss the mark on many. For some children the pace is too fast so they struggle more, fall farther behind, and become deeply frustrated. These are future “behavior problems.” Some students with greater ability become really bored and turned off. These are also future “behavior problems.” Every classroom is, in a sense, a three ring circus, with low, medium and high levels of children, to be simplistic. There is nothing simplistic about meeting all of these children’s needs, however, which is why teachers seriously burn out from the stress. Added to this is the fact that the children who are really behind need something close to one-on-one instruction if they are to succeed. And every parent on the planet is praying that the teacher can pull all of this off, because their child is precious to them.
If a trained para-pro is added to the classroom, it allows the teacher to work on three levels more efficiently. The para-pro can help with small-group instruction at a pace that benefits the struggling child, while the teacher instructs the majority, and feeds the other minority – the accelerated ones – with similar but more complicated tasks. This allows the classroom to meet the intellectual needs of all or at least most of its children, which is what parents want and what a school is for, anyway.
Besides many levels of academic needs in the classroom, children bring with them an array of emotional needs as well. Depending on a child’s background, sometimes these emotional needs outweigh their academic ones. This is an important reason why the atmosphere in the classroom needs to be pleasant, positive and encouraging at all times. For children coming from deeply stressed homes or neighborhoods, a good experience at school can be crucial for their success later on in life.
One of the benefits of children’s academic needs being met is that a lot of “behavior problems” simply disappear. Truly engaged students aren’t problems, because their energies are going into actually learning and being praised for it. The class is interesting and sometimes even exciting. Many of the other behavior problems that do show up are greatly mitigated by having a second adult in the class. Just the physical presence and near proximity of adults to children greatly diminishes bad behavior. Another adult also enhances the ability to counsel children when needed, as well as to attend to questions or pleas for help on a more timely basis, cutting off trouble before it starts.
One of the chief complaints from many teachers is that “crowd control” and “misbehaviors” consume a way-too-large part of their school day, which also adds to burnout.
Large learning gains, better instruction, less behavior problems, more individual help, a more pleasant atmosphere and less stress for everybody are some of the positive results of adding more adults to the classroom. It is an idea whose time has come and is well worth the cost. Ask any parent.