What Is A Paraprofessional And What Do They Do At My Child's School?

by Team Scary Mommy
Originally Published: 
what is a paraprofessional, Young child in classroom
Jerry Wang/Unsplash

As a parent, you (understandably) want to know something about the people your kids interact with during the day at school. Sure, you’ve probably met their teacher at conferences, but there’s a good chance they’re not the only ones educating their child. Paraprofessionals — also known as paraeducators — also play an active role in schools, sometimes providing one-on-one support for students with special needs or who speak a language other than English. But what exactly is a paraprofessional and what do they do in and out of the classroom?

You’re not the only one asking yourself that question. If you’ve seen one in your child’s school you might wonder what they do and what their qualifications are. You’re not alone in that query. According to the latest search data available to us, the term paraprofessional is searched for nearly 50,000 times per month. So here’s what you need to know about this lesser-known type of educator.

What is a paraprofessional?

In general, a paraprofessional is someone who specializes in a specific task, but is not authorized to practice as a fully qualified professional. You’ve probably heard of paramedics and paralegals, who also fall into this category. In schools, paraprofessionals are also referred to as paraeducators, or teacher aides.

But paraprofessionals also take on other roles in schools, including providing instructional support in the computer lab, library, or media center. When paraeducators are stationed in a classroom, they can be assigned to one particular student as part of their Individualized Education Plan (IEP) — though they work directly under certified teachers.

“Under ideal circumstances, having a certified, enthusiastic, well-prepared paraprofessional can make an enormous difference in the efficiency of your child’s classroom and the implementation of your child’s IEP,” Terri Mauro at VeryWell Family writes. “When there are problems, it is often because paraprofessionals are being asked to do things they are not trained to do or have been pressed into service to do administrative tasks for the school outside of their support role in the classroom.”

What kind of education do you need to become a paraprofessional?

Parents may know the ins, outs and background of their child’s teacher, but what kind of experience and education does a paraprofessional have? The education requirements for a paraprofessional actually depend on the school and trajectory they are seeking. At the minimum, most schools will require at least a two-year degree, preferably from a specialized program in the field, or a related field such as early education, child development or special education. Paraprofessionals who have completed a four-year degree in subjects associated with education will find more opportunities for employment and may even qualify for a higher salary.

Candidates for paraeducator positions are encouraged to have completed some type of volunteer program where they gain experience working with children, such as tutoring agencies or at Big Brother Big Sister organizations. They may have also gotten some experience working as entry level teacher’s assistants in an unspecified role. The more experience a paraprofessional has had with children, especially with kids who need special education, the better. Many schools also encourage their paraprofessionals to certify in first aid and CPR.

What does a paraprofessional or teacher’s assistant do?

Ahead are just some of the job requirerements for a paraprofessional/teacher’s assistant. This obviously depends on the classroom, school, and the expertise of the specific paraprofessional.

  • Work with the head teacher to monitor the class schedule and attendance.
  • Assist the head teachers with lesson prep and setting up equipment.
  • Review the lesson with students individually or in small groups.
  • Make sure the classroom environment is safe and clean.
  • Oversee students during non-classroom times such as lunch and on field trips.
  • Collaborate with head teachers on issues students may be having and recommend solutions.
  • Document student progress and communicate with parents.
  • Help head teachers create lesson plans.
  • And many more.

Types of Paraprofessionals

“Paraprofessional” itself is a broad term, encompassing roles in several different aspects of education. Here are some of the different types you may find at your child’s school.

Special Education Paraprofessional

Though historically, students with special needs were placed in separate classrooms or schools, today, many are integrated into traditional educational settings. While this is a step in the right direction, many students in this category need additional assistance, based on their individual needs. That’s where special education paraprofessionals come in. Their role is to help students with special needs assimilate and learn in the classroom. Specific duties include reinforcing lessons from class, providing additional instruction, administering tests, and assisting students with physical limitations and/or mobility issues. Special education paraprofessionals may also accompany students to occupational, speech, or other forms of therapy offered at the school.

Instructional Support

Paraeducators can also take on a more general assignment as a teaching assistant or aide, providing additional instructional support in the classroom. That can take various forms, including teaching certain lessons, organizing activities, and managing classroom operations.

Language Support

Not all students in the United States speak English, so some paraeducators focus on providing language support to help them keep up with lessons in the classroom. According to the National Education Association, “In many districts, paraeducators live in the school neighborhood, speak the language of the students and provide a special liaison to the community and its culture.”

Behavioral Support

Other paraeducators specialize in working with students with behavioral challenges. For students with behavioral intervention plans, the paraprofessional will monitor and take notes on their behavior during the school day, then provide insight into how the child can be better supported. “Paraprofessionals will know strategies to help your child with behavior—like telling her when she’s doing well, giving her rewards and helping her to stop aggressive behavior,” according to the organization Understood for All, which works with educators, administrators, researchers and other community members to address systemic issues in education. “Paraprofessionals are often trained to jump in and help in a crisis.”

In short, paraeducators provide necessary and important support and assistance in the classroom for a variety of students. If you have additional questions, you can discuss your child’s IEP with their school, or at your next round of parent-teacher conferences.

Physical Support

Because some paraprofessionals work with children with physical disabilities, per Understood For All, they can also help with “adaptive skills, like self-care and communication. They may also collaborate with the school nurse to work with students who need medical support. For example, they may help children who are at risk for seizures or who have severe allergies.”

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