FIRST PERSON |  Arti O’Connor

I know my workas a special education para makes a difference when I look into the faces of the children I teach. I know I matter when an excited child says, “Now I get it! I understand it now!” I know I touched a child’s heart when he or she tells me, “You’re a very nice person.” And when a child talks about something sad that has happened in their lives, it means he or she trusts me enough to share something meaningful.

A welcoming, encouraging, caring attitude every day makes a difference in the lives of our students. Our students deserve a safe environment, one in which they aren’t afraid to make a mistake; one with structure but also the freedom to express themselves; consistency, 
but flexibility when appropriate.

Students are not statistics on a spreadsheet. They are the future of our communities and our nation. The character each develops matters, regardless of what jobs they may eventually hold as adults. As paraprofessionals, we help shape our students in ways we may not even realize. In these most difficult of times, why would anyone want to be a para? Because it matters now more than ever.

Arti O’Connor is president of the Gilroy Federation of Teachers and Paraprofessionals, AFT Local 1921