I still remember my old teaching days, years ago. Back then it was unheard of having a helper in the classroom. You had to handle everything on your own, regardless of the number of students, their discipline, and everything else that took place in the room. Many things have changed since, some for better, other for worse.
Without a doubt, we had much less students with special needs. And the discipline was better. Who knows why so many children struggle with all sorts of physical and mental issues nowadays? Perhaps the modern diet is to blame, or the air pollution, or pesticides and antibiotics all around us? Or is it something completely different? Anyway, paraprofessionals came to the scene, helping teachers, and most importantly students, to handle the new reality. And now I will help you to succeed in an interview for this interesting job.
In a typical scenario, you will interview in front of a small committee. School principal, some senior teachers, maybe one of the counselors, or even someone for the district will be present. Typically the bigger the school, the bigger the hiring committee. They will normally ask you about fifteen questions, mostly about your motivation, education and experience, and your attitude to all sorts of tricky situations you may face as a Paraprofessional in the classroom. Let’s have a look at some of them!
Why do you want to work as a paraprofessional?
Try to talk about qualities that make from you a good applicant for the position. You have decent understanding for the emotions and needs of young students, and enjoy being around children. Flexibility and patience will help you to handle the demands of the job.
What’s more, you have a theoretical knowledge of various special educational needs, and have your idea of addressing different situations in the classroom, while trying to help the student you work with, and, at the same time, not interfere with the teaching. (You will demonstrate this later with your answers to scenario-based questions.)
One thing I suggest you to avoid saying is that you want to work as a paraprofessional because you passed the parapro assessment. That’s just a wrong order of cause and effect formula, and it would indicate a must, rather than a desire (you’ve already studied for the exam and passed it, so now you have to get the job in the field). On the contrary, you passed the assessment (if you did pass it), because you want to work as a paraprofessional. That’s the right way of thinking to show in your interview.
In what area would you like to specialize?/In what type of a classroom setting would you like to work?
You have two good options for an answer here. First one is choosing an area, or a specific classroom setting (autistic children, behavioral disorders, one on one, intervention, special education—or other areas/settings, check the website of the school or the school district to understand the classification they use), and matching it with your strength and goals.
If you opt for this answer, it is important to mention that you are fine with working in any other setting. You understand that though your preference is one on one, they may need you in a classroom of ten children with behavioral disorders, or in other setting. While you have your preferences, first and foremost you want to help the children and the teachers, and hence you will work where they need you the most.
Second option is saying that you are not sure. You are just starting in the field, and though you have good theoretical knowledge of different special needs, it is not the same like working in the actual classroom, and with the students. You prefer to try different settings, and learn from more experienced colleagues in your training. After some time you will understand what suits you, and in which setting you can offer most value to the students you work with. Then you will be able to make your choice…
Do you have a paraprofessional certification, or any other relevant training?
Various places have different requirements on job candidates. You definitely do not need a certification to have a chance to get a paraprofessional job. In fact, many schools will send you to training, or organize one within their premises, helping you with your education, and eventually with the certification.
Of course, it is a plus to have a certification, but you cannot count on it winning you the job contract. What matters most for the hiring committee is your desire to continuously work on your education, in order to become a better paraprofessional, and achieve even better results with the students. You should relate to it, regardless of whether you have any certification or not.
How do you imagine your day in a special education classroom?
You can summarize your role into one sentence, saying that your role is to provide personalized instructions to students and help maintain behavioral standards and order in the classroom. You do not have to go into details, talking about various situations that may happen, and how you will address them. They will ask about these things separately, if they decide to do so.
But you can mention, at least briefly, your secondary duties, such as tracking student attendance, or checking homework—simply helping the teacher if you have no primary duties to take care of at the given moment. Secondary duties should not distract your attention from your primary role in the classes…
Imagine that you work one on one with a student with ADHD. What will you do to ensure they stay at least relatively calm in the classroom?
ADHD is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders of childhood, and you will almost always get at least one question related to it in your paraprofessional interview.
The condition manifest in many different ways, and, just like with any other disorder, no two children are exactly the same. Therefor it definitely makes sense to emphasize individual approach in your answer, and perhaps even name a remedy for different symptoms for ADHD, or different behavior children with this disorder may display.
It is important to think out loud, to explain your reasoning while answering scenario-based questions. Because honestly, there’s no one-fit-all approach, or solution that works with every child with ADHD. If there was such a solution, we would simply apply it with each child, and solve the problems. But that’s not the case…
One thing I want you to be rather careful about is mentioning medication—psychiatric drugs, in your answer. In fact, almost 7% of children living in the US take psychiatric medication on a daily basis (which is a horrible thing in my view, and perhaps one of the reasons why they typically develop many other heath issues as they grow older), and many people got accustomed to it as something normal.
But it is still a controversial topic. If you say that giving them some tranquilizers is the easiest way to tame them in the classroom, you are risking a strong disapproval from some members of the hiring committee. And that could, in some scenarios, cost you your chances of getting this job…
Other questions you may face in your paraprofessional educator job interview
- Where do you see yourself in five years from now? Would you like to stay in the field?
- Do you imagine participating on any activities that take place outside of the lessons?
- What are your strengths and weaknesses as a paraprofessional?
- What is your philosophy when it comes to inclusion and segregation? Please share your opinion with us.
- Do you have any experience with individualized education plans?
- What will motivate you the most in this job?
- Imagine that two students are talking about football, while they should be working on a writing assignment. What will you do in this situation?
- Imagine that a situation in a classroom escalates, and you feel like screaming on the students. What will you do to stay calm?
- What do you consider the most difficult aspect of this job?
- After everything we’ve discussed here, do you want to add something or do you have any questions?
Interview for a job of a paraprofessional is not the toughest job interview in the field of education, but it isn’t easy either. In a typical setting you’ll interview in front of a small panel–which alone is stressful for the majority of job seekers. One can feel like being in a “one against many” situation, though of course in reality it is not the case, because they want to hire someone, and hope you will do well with your answers.
What’s more, you will typically face some scenario-based questions in this interview. That’s not easy considering you do not have experience with such scenarios (conflict with a student or with a teacher, disruptive and defiant behavior, etc). I suggest you to think about these questions in advance, because answering their questions with silence won’t yield you the desired outcome of a job interview… In any case, I hope you will succeed and wish you best of luck!
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