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Interviewing Paraprofessionals

I am lucky to work in a district where I am responsible for hiring the paraprofessionals that work in my classroom. I love that I have control over who I hire but interviewing is one of my least favorite things to do! I remember as a new teacher, I was way more nervous than the people I was interviewing! Thankfully, it's gotten easier over time and you learn the red flags to watch for. I am currently in the process of hiring for a replacement position, so I thought it might be helpful to share my interview questions with you.


A few tips when interviewing: Before we get to the questions, here are a few interviewing tips.

Be upfront and realistic. Sometimes it's a crazy job and you want to find someone who will stick it out through the tough parts. Make sure you applicants know what their job duties will consist of and how you manage the classroom. Personality clashes or disagreements can cause major problems in the classroom. I also like to make sure my applicants know that they will likely be thrown into the job on day 1. My district doesn't provide training, it's all up to the classroom teacher. There is no set aside training time- it all occurs in the classroom and sometimes it may take awhile because I can be pulled away at any moment. If your district does provide training, make sure you share that information as well. I find it almost as helpful as the actual interview questions to see how applicants react to the information that I give them about the job.

Invite another teacher to the interview.  It's always helpful to have another person listen in and discuss the applicants with you after interviewing. I always include my student teachers in interviews so they get the experience. If you don't have a student teacher, invite another SPED teacher to sit in, or even your administrator. My administrator wants nothing to do with my interviews but a lot of administrators want to be more involved.

Keep detailed notes as well as an overall "rating" for each applicant that you interview. This will help you afterwards when making a decision.  I use the app "Interview Assistant" during interviews. It stores all of my questions and I can take notes right there or record audio if I want. It also allows me to rate each interviewee at the end.

Interview Questions:
I always start an interview asking the applicant to tell me about themselves and why they are interested in the position. I ask the basic questions about their prior experience, availability, and if they are able to physically assist with students and are comfortable with toileting, feeding, etc. Here are some of my other go to questions.

  • What do you believe is the purpose of special education? You can learn a lot about how the person will fit in you classroom based on their answer to this one, speaking from prior experience!
  • Describe your understanding of your role if you were hired as a paraprofessional.
  • What strengths would you bring to our classroom?
  • Tell me about the difficulties you might face if you were hired for this position, or the difficulties you've faced when starting a new job in the past. In other words, what are your challenges when in a new position?
  • Tell me about how you would handle a student who was having an emotional outburst (i.e. screaming and crying).
  • Tell me what you would do if a student told you no when you gave him/her a direction. Then follow up with- What would you do if he/she continued to be non-compliant?
  • How do you handle disagreements with other adults in the work environment?
  • What would you do if another person (faculty member, neighbor, etc.) asked you about the students that you work with?
  • What would you do with your time if the student you were assigned to work with was absent?
  • If you were scheduled to attend a general education class with one of our students (like science or PE), what would you see as your role and how would you assist? 
I'd love to hear your favorite interview questions! Leave me a comment below. Thanks for reading!





Teacher Appreciation Gift Tags

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week! In case no one has told you yet, you are an amazing teacher and you are making a difference every day!


Standards Based Centers

In Utah, we are required to teach grade level content based on the Essential Elements. The Essential Elements are alternative standards based on the Common Core standards designed specifically for students with significant disabilities. Special education teachers are expected to teach each of the grade level standards to each student. That’s a pretty high expectation and requires a lot of organization and planning! How are you supposed to teach 20+ academic standards along with IEP goals, not to mention all the other things you are responsible for each day?!


Podcasts for Special Educators

I’ve been loving podcasts lately! Listening to them as I get ready in the morning gets my brain out of sleep mode and slowly helps me transition to thinking about work, without overwhelming myself with my daily to do list. Today I’m sharing 5 of my favorite podcasts. I challenge you to check out one of them this week and let me know what you think!


Valentine's Day Gift Exchange

I love doing a Valentine's Day gift exchange with my middle school class! It's such a fun way to work on functional skills, like making a purchase, thinking about others' interests, manners, and appropriate behavior in the community. I am lucky to work just down the street from a dollar store so every Valentine's Day, we walk down to the store and my students buy a gift for a classmate. Then, we wrap them up and do a gift exchange. So fun, and so much more age appropriate than decorating Valentine mailboxes!

{FREE} Transition Resources for Special Educators

Special education laws require us to begin transition planning when before students turn 16 years old. In many states, it's when they are 14. So middle school and high school teachers, that's you! This is a huge responsibility. We know that the earlier we begin to work on transition planning with our students and their families, the better off they will be when they leave the school system- the more likely they are to gain employment, participate in post-secondary education, live independently, or be able to access the community.

Writing With An Alternative Pencil

Let's talk about writing. Students learn about writing by writing. That means we have to let them write. If they can't hold a pencil to write, then we provide them an alternative tool, or an alternative pencil.

You may have seen the alternative pencil flip charts. You can get one for free here. But an alternative pencil can be anything that allows a student to write. I want to share how I use alternative pencils in my classroom for whole class writing prompts. Each day, I introduce a writing topic. As a class, we brainstorm words that are related to the topic that we could use to write. Then, my paras and I assist my students in writing about the topic, using alternative pencils. I have one student who uses a flip chart, one student who uses a keyboard, and one student who uses letter flash cards and yes/no icons. The rest of my students use typical pencils.


Here are some tips to help your students who are learning to write with alternative pencils! 
1. Choose topics of interest. Write about experiences the students have had, or events that are coming up. Make it meaningful and concrete.

 2. Use videos or pictures to introduce the topic. I love using pictures or videos of my students to introduce a topic. If we are writing about a field trip that we went on, I use pictures of the student on the field trip. Or if we are writing about a holiday, I use a short video clip to get students engaged. For my students who love music, I like to use songs about the topic. Whatever it takes to get them engaged!
For our Thanksgiving writing prompt, we watched a clip from "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving."

For this writing prompt, we will watch a video about how to make a paper snowflake. Then, we will make our own snowflakes before we write. This will give the students a more concrete experience to write about.

3. Model. Use the student's alternative pencil to model what writing can look like. Show them how to create new words using spaces.  Show them how to find letters.  Make sure you think aloud during the process.

4. Give meaning to the students writing. One of my favorite parts of using alternative pencils is the "borrowing letters" strategy. After students have completed their writing, you can "borrow" the letters they wrote to create words. 

5. Allow students opportunities to share. I love the idea of an author's chair in the classroom. Students can come sit in the author's chair and share their writing. For my non-verbal students, I love to help them program their AAC device to match their writing or use a step by step switch to record what they wrote.


Learning to write starts with the opportunity to write. Let's make sure all students are given that opportunity!
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