This report discusses findings from a study that examined issues surrounding the collaborative relationship between Latino paraeducators and the classroom teachers with whom they worked. Specifically, the study examined the types of activities that the paraeducators engaged in, the input they had in classroom instructional activities, the assistance they received from teachers and others, and the factors that detracted from or fostered collaborative relationships.
The participants were drawn from two large public elementary schools in Southern California that serve predominantly working-class Latino language minority students. The school sites were chosen for their affiliation with the Latino Teacher Project (LTP), a program designed for the recruitment and retention of Latino teachers. The program supports preservice teachers monetarily through a stipend and through part-time positions as paraeducators in schools. LTP is based on an apprenticeship model as an added approach to teacher education. Paraeducators are assigned mentors at the schools who are experienced teachers.
Thirty-two paraeducators were observed and interviewed for the study. The teachers the paraeducators worked with were also interviewed, regarding their perceptions of the paraeducators' role. Between March 1998 and February 1999, eight to ten observations were made of the paraeducators working directly with students on language arts activities. Notes from classroom observations and informal conversations and interview transcripts were analyzed using a grounded approach.
Findings reveal that a lack of interaction between teachers and paraeducators allowed little time for paraeducators to ask questions of the teachers or for the teachers to assist the paraeducators in the development of effective teaching strategies. Both paraeducators and teachers indicated that more opportunities for teacher-paraeducator interaction would be very beneficial.
The findings also suggest that the school cultures are not structured to support collaboration between teachers and paraeducators, and that a hierarchical structure of social relations exists that influences how teachers and paraeducators relate to each other. A critical finding is that teachers are not aware that paraeducators possess a knowledge of the students' culture and community that is essential for tapping into students' prior knowledge and interests.
Policy implications for professional development and areas for further research are discussed.