By the Sweat of My Two Hands– Republish from December 13, 2013

We have discussed in the past what it would mean for a student with a disability to do something and that they take ownership of their own academic work. Just like their peers, they really know when they are doing something and when they are not getting their just due.

When you know the project is yours, even if you cannot complete it entirely, you have some ways to make it the student’s own project. So here are some actual situations and how we made it a student’s project

  • When provided a list of options for an ABC book based on a specific topic, we gave the student a list of words (large font, spaced out). Student had to choose up to 13 words for this assignment. Student wrote the words on different pages. Student then looked up the pictures for the words.
  • Student was given a cumulative reflective assignment to choose one specific section of the year’s study. Student then had a discussion with staff starting with which category to choose, and then narrowed down to a subtopic. Student then chose the way the project to demonstrate their knowledge. Student was nearly constantly quizzed on the way to make choices to complete the project.
  • Student in an art class was given premade shapes from cookie cutters in clay. They got to choose the colors when given a card with all the different colors to paint the clay pieces. Student given a small array of cookie cutters also chose the shape of each piece as the project began.

While the staff intervention was very obvious in all of these situations, the students were all given say in how their projects were directed. These students were also all different levels of ability.

All the ways that the students were offered help engaged them in their assignments. They had to make the decisions based on the material their teachers assigned them. While some of them may have had reduced workload (not explained in their descriptions), they each were able to submit a project on time with guidelines based by the respective general education teacher’s requirements.

I Believe In You

Presumption of competence is an imperfect system. But it is better than nothing actually. It means, that every day with every activity, I (staff, family, friend) believe that someone with a disability can do anything they want/can/try to do. The part that is often not discussed is what to do with the outcomes of failure or success.

“What is success? I think it is a mixture of having a flair for the thing you are doing; knowing that it is not enough, that you have to have hard work and a certain sense of purpose.”

Margaret Thatcher

If you succeed in your task, especially large tasks that have consumed most of your time and energy, I believe you are capable of more—More tasks, more responsibility, and harder work with more demands. My job is to test those limits of yours until there is no more space to go. There are going to be days you cannot imagine you are able to do what is asked of you. And yet you do them. And every day is that closer step to that little bit more independence that wasn’t there before.

Presumption of competence also is the basis for independence. At some point we all had to prove ourselves to be trustworthy, and it will always be an on going experience for everyone, regardless of a disability or not.

My job is to believe you can. I can wait nervously or with annoyance for you to do the task yourself, but your work is your work.

“I never make the same mistake twice. I make it five or six times just to be sure.”


But what if you were not able to do it? Especially after three to four tries? Well, with a student with limited communication, I will reconsider my instruction. I might stop asking that task of you, especially if I can see the increase of task avoidance.

And it seems ludicrous to keep asking the students to keep doing a task, but you are finally checking to be sure. And then that just goes away. It does not mean “never able to do this by self”, it usually just means “not now”. And “now” could be in two months, could be in three years, could honestly be ‘never’. And it is the never that gets frustrating.

Never has many implications. And it is just for everyone to learn to accept that while that door is closed, something else may present itself. And the only choice is for things to move forward.

But I believe in you. I’ve seen you do things you didn’t think was possible. And while this might not be the time, it is the place.

“Dear ParaEducate”

From time to time, we do get letters or requests from our readers. We have a few assembled here.

So diving into the bag of questions, here we go.

Dear ParaEducate,

I am a student teacher in a general education history class. Why do I have to accommodate these paraeducators and their students.


New Student on the block

Dear New Student on the block,

Maybe your paraeducator didn’t have a chance to explain themselves to you yet. There are a lot of things to be doing. And the student they help out with: that’s your student too.

Your paraeducator is probably doing one of a thousand things:

  • helping your student get into the classroom
  • helping your student get oriented to the classroom
  • helping your student keep up with your requests
  • trying to anticipate things you might need to better understand your student
  • taking data about the student’s interaction in class
  • keeping tabs on other students in the class

You can meet with your paraeducator at their lunch time or maybe ask to meet them for coffee somewhere.  They will love to talk about their job, just not the confidential parts.



Dear ParaEducate,

I am a student teacher, what advice do you have for me now that I’m about to start working in a classroom? I mean, come on what are paraeducators all about anyway?


About to step into my new role

Dear New Role,

We are so excited for you! And you are definitely asking the right questions.

I see you are eager to reach out and teach all your students. And I know there is a lot to be focused on at anyone moment. There are the students who are not eating meals throughout the day, there are at least thirty-five bodies in your room at any one time, and there area n assortment of demands from both your master teacher and your professors.

From your description, you seem to have inclusion on your campus. And those students are lucky to have you in their lives for however long it will be. They want the same chance to explore and get excited about your material just like you.

Watch your student-paraprofessional interaction. See how your student’s independence grows and tries to make things possible for students of all abilities to succeed.



Do you have any comments about this month’s blog? Do you have a question for us? Would you like to have an opportunity to pilot some materials at your campus? Find ParaEducate online here, here, and on our website. ParaEducate is a company providing materials, information, and strategies for people working in special education inclusion settings for grades K-12. ParaEducate, the blog, is published once a month during the academic school year. ParaEducate shares their findings at conferences, through their books, and their academic adaptations.


One response to “By the Sweat of My Two Hands– Republish from December 13, 2013”

  1. […] We spoke years ago about the role of paraeducator and student teachers, but we have not really looked at that gap that Renay bridged as a paraeducator to student teacher and then teacher. Statistically: there are not really any profound differences in outcomes making that leap professionally, however, Renay tinkered around and looked at the data and it appears that the relationship has not really looked at specific outcomes relating to special education teachers. But Renay also managed to identify that paraeducators might not be successful in that leap if they had not had work with a teacher who identified data collection as a priority or understanding students. All the “easy” parts—following curriculum, finding ways to have a student identify information they understand, developing relationships with students, managing an IEP meeting, understanding Assistive technology, and using it with the students, providing systems for social skills, does not happen unless the individual can navigate all those skills. While teacher credential programs try to infuse all these worlds to every student at every level, there are a million things that stand right in front of a special education teacher and few know those demands better than the paraeducators. […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *