A special education paraprofessional, also known as an instructional assistant, typically works with a student one-on-one or may work with several students in a small group setting. The duties of a paraprofessional may include reinforcing information taught by the teacher and helping assigned students complete assignments. Basic care, working with the student in the general education setting, and taking data may also be a part of a special education paraprofessional's job duties. Paraprofessionals are also usually required to participate in inservice meetings to further their own knowledge.
Those who work as a special education paraprofessional may be assigned to a single student who needs assistance throughout the day. The paraprofessional may take notes for the student in the general classroom setting, refocus the student if he or she becomes distracted, or monitor the student's behavior. Helping the student keep belongings organized or with homework may also be part of the one-on-one paraprofessional's job description.
Sometimes a special education paraprofessional assigned to one student must perform health-related tasks. In the case of severely disabled students, these tasks may include changing the student's diapers, feeding, physical therapy or massage, donning jackets, and the like. The paraprofessional may also help the student take medication at the right time of day or get on the correct bus when school is out.
Other paraprofessionals are assigned to less severely disabled students. These students may work in a small group with the special education paraprofessional, either reviewing material from the general education setting or working on projects together. When a paraprofessional works with students in a group, he or she is less likely to have health care as a part of the job description.
Many students in special education may be best served in self-contained classrooms with a special education teacher and special education paraprofessionals. Students in these settings may go into the general classroom to socialize with typical peers or participate in class in some other way. During this time, the special education paraprofessional's job is to facilitate interactions between the student with disabilities and non-disabled classmates. This is not always easy because some children, especially those with disabilities such as autism, have limited social skills.
Compiling data is an important part of any special education program. A special education paraprofessional often is responsible for taking data and recording it during or after a work session. Such data can show whether a student is progressing toward his or her educational goals, remaining the same, or regressing. The teacher can use the data to make informed educational decisions about the student's program when he or she writes the individualized education program (IEP).
Public schools have inservice days that all teaching and support staff are required to attend. Special education paraprofessionals may attend the inservice for all staff or may participate in training that relates directly to the paraprofessional's job. Each school district trains its paraprofessionals in slightly different ways, but generally all districts expect their paraprofessionals to improve the way they perform their duties.