By Samantha Lund '16
PLU Marketing & Communications
TACOMA, WASH. (Dec. 16, 2015)- Classrooms are taking in more students, budgets are decreasing and curricular standards are becoming more rigorous in the modern school atmosphere. With all of the challenges facing today’s educators, one teacher can’t do it alone anymore. Pacific Lutheran University Professor Kent Gerlach, who is retiring in May after 35 years of teaching at PLU, recognized the obstacles today’s teachers face and decided early on in his career to highlight paraeducators as a key to teaching.
“More than ever before, children need to see adults working well together,” Gerlach writes in his book Let’s Team Up! “This comes from respecting and recognizing each other.”
Paraeducators are school employees who work under the supervision of teachers, and their jobs are usually instructional. One big reason for the recent resurgence of paraeducators, as Gerlach writes, is “that more and more children need small-group and individual help.”
“His work is important because it’ll provide paraeducators and teachers the kinds of intellectual tools related to working together,” Frank Kline, dean of the School of Education said. “This will provide an increasingly stronger system of adult support, teachers and paraprofessionals for our students.”
Gerlach is a professor of special education in the School of Education and Kinesiology, and his work revolves around the importance of paraeducators and their process. In Gerlach’s words, “paraeducators are vital to student achievement.”
Retiring after 35 years of teaching at PLU, Gerlach leaves behind a legacy here and nationally. He has spearheaded paraeducator programs at PLU and wrote two books based around his principles. Supervising Paraeducators in Educational Settings, which he co-authored with Anna Lou Pickett, and Let’s Team Up! A Checklist for Teachers, Paraeducators & Principals both acknowledge, teach and discuss the importance of a paraeducator’s role at a school.
“The impact that he’s had on students is extremely difficult to quantify,” Kline said. “He has also had a huge impact on the education program at PLU, in the state of Washington, and also at the national level.”
Paraeducators are still a relatively new idea and are looking to make changes. Several groups across Washington state are working to determine minimum employment standards for paraeducators, training programs and career ladders for paraeducators. Gerlach has been a driving supporter for legislation to determine these standards and has made national waves with his advocacy for the group.