What is a Paraeducator? A Quick Guide to Paraeducator Jobs

It is a challenge in special education to ensure that all students can learn. This is where paraeducators, or teacher assistants, come into play. Paired with the teacher, paraeducators help children with special needs improve their academic performance and learn social skills that will make them successful in school and beyond.

In today’s world, paraeducators have many responsibilities. They meet countless development goals and provide an understanding of education in a school community. Paraeducators attend to small children and large groups, typically assisting non-certified teachers with classroom instruction. 

They work in public, private, and religious schools, private preschools, colleges, healthcare facilities, and units of government such as social services. Do you want to learn more about a paraeducator? In this article, you will learn what a paraeducator does when helping in the classroom.

What Exactly is a Paraeducator?

A paraeducator is a paraprofessional employee of a school district who works under the supervision of a teacher. Paraeducators are often used in schools as speech therapists, physical therapists, and school psychologists. Furthermore, the specific duties performed by a paraprofessional vary by state, though some core functions are common.

A paraeducator may be hired in place of a teacher on a temporary or long-term basis to fill a vacancy or to assist a teacher in the classroom. Many districts have a shortage of qualified teachers for special education-related positions. When this happens, the district uses a paraeducator, who in turn may be certified or uncertified. 

In practice, the term is used for anyone who is employed as support staff in classroom settings or non-instructional settings but is not a licensed or certified teacher.

SEE: Learn more about a guest lecturer

What Are the Job Roles of a Paraeducator?

The following should help you better understand and define the role of a paraeducator. This does not necessarily encompass every task a paraeducator might be assigned but is meant to provide a general idea.

1. Support instructional activities in a library or media centre

In a school library or media center, the paraeducator supports students with reading and writing while remaining close to the classroom teacher. Their duties include assisting students with the proper procedures for checking out and returning books, monitoring students’ behavior, and assisting with inventory. In addition to these duties, paraeducators may provide intervention for students who need extra help. 

2. Serve as a translator

The paraeducator’s role is to make tasks as easy and clear as possible for the teacher and her students. Thus, he or she will need to translate the instructions or lesson so that it’s understandable to all, regardless of their different backgrounds or abilities. 

When a paraeducator serves as a translator, he/she facilitates communication between students who speak a different language and the teacher. They may also interpret at parent-teacher meetings for non-English-speaking parents.

SEE: Here are the best languages to learn

3. Private tutoring

The job responsibilities of a paraeducator include helping teachers or other professionals oversee students either one-on-one or within a group setting. Students may work one-on-one or in small groups, but under the supervision of a teacher or any other professional. 

This role is vital in improving the quality of education for students, especially those who find it difficult to listen to instructions from a teacher. They help facilitate teacher-led lessons, implement individualized education plans, instruct students in small groups, and provide one-on-one support. 

SEE: Explore the importance of peer tutoring 

4. Takes over the classroom in situations of emergency or absence

There are some cases where a classroom teacher might be absent for various reasons. In such cases, paraeducators can stand in for teachers on a short-term basis. They are classified as either instructional or non-instructional paraeducators, depending on the nature of their function. They may also be called teaching assistants.

5. Aids the teacher with classroom management

The paraeducator is not there to take over classroom management. The teacher always remains responsible for classroom management (and is still ultimately accountable for it). The paraeducator is there to do the tasks that the teacher cannot do because she is too busy teaching. 

When students are learning about fractions, the teacher may give them a math activity and then test them afterward to know whether they understood. If a pupil did not grasp the concept, the paraeducator would stay behind with them to teach them how to do the activity and even quiz them on it.

6. Assist with computer lab instruction

The role of the paraeducator is to assist in teacher-directed activities in a variety of instructional settings. A paraeducator working as a computer lab aid must help students with tasks such as setting up their computers, logging on to the network, and completing assignments. 

This can be done by either working directly with students or by observing the students’ work in their groups and making sure that all computers are working properly.

7. Coordinates parental involvement programs

A paraeducator is an aide for a special needs child in an educational setting, who assists teachers with meeting the needs of the students. A paraeducator is often asked to bridge the gap between teachers and parents. 

They help parents gain experience, information, and understanding about the special needs of their children through workshops, conferences, and teacher-parent meetings.

SEE: Discover the importance of parental involvement in a child’s education

What Are the Qualifications for Becoming a Paraeducator?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, you need to have at least two years of college study, and licensure is not required to become a paraeducator. However, if you are working in a public school system, then you will have to take part in training and pass a test to become a certified paraeducator. 

College students or retired people who want to earn some extra money usually become paraeducators. All you have to have is the willingness to work hard, strong communication and educational skills, and a background in a relevant field.

In addition, some states have different requirements for paraeducators, which may include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Special education instructional experience
  • A Bachelor’s degree or higher in education or a related field
  • Certification in special education
  • A current, valid Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) certification

As a paraeducator, you play a key role in the success of students with special needs and all students by supporting teachers and helping students learn. A background in teaching through a certification or degree in teaching is also a plus. 

You should also possess strong organizational skills, as you will be responsible for numerous activities that need to be planned. A good academic background will also help in securing a better position as a paraeducator.

SEE: Explore the benefits of digital badges

How Can Schools Find a Good Paraeducator? 

1. Look for someone with qualifications

The first thing to consider in hiring a paraeducator is their qualifications and education. This doesn’t mean you need someone with a four-year degree, but you want someone who has gone through a training program for working with children who have special needs.  

Most schools know that a qualified paraeducator is essential but they don’t realize that there are actual standards. To find a paraeducator who is qualified, check the state requirements in your area. 

If you want to hire the “ideal” paraeducator, make sure that you hire someone who has experience working with children. In addition, look for skills such as patience, good communication skills, and the ability to multi-task and manage many different situations.

SEE: Discover the qualities of a good teacher

2. Check references

When seeking a qualified paraeducator, you must take the time to check references. This might be one of the most overlooked aspects of hiring an aide, but it can be one of the most beneficial. Highly qualified paraeducators are hard to find and keep. 

The best way to gain insight as to how a potential paraeducator will act in your school is by checking their references. Always do a reference check. If a candidate does not have any to provide, don’t be surprised if he/she does not last. Paraeducators are not interchangeable. They must be the right fit for your school.

3. Interview the candidates

When it comes to hiring paraeducators, don’t let candidates’ resumes or education backgrounds alone influence your decision. Interviewing each one will allow you to determine the best match for your school.

Potential paraeducators should meet with several people in the school, including administrators, teachers, and other paraeducators. Schools benefit when they can find out what the candidates are good at and feel comfortable doing.

By observing a candidate on the job and discussing their role with them, you can learn a lot about the skills they would bring to your school. You’ll get a first-hand look at how they interact with students and what kinds of techniques they use to help students in the classroom. 

SEE: Explore tips to improve your interview skills

4. Provide clear instructions on your standards, expectations and code of conduct

When a new paraeducator joins your team, they need to clearly understand what the expectations are of them. Write up documents outlining the code of conduct and work standards, and make sure they’re visible in your staff room.

Have a discussion with your new paraeducator so you know they understand all aspects of their job and why you have these high standards in place. And don’t be afraid to share some tips on how they can create a positive learning environment.

5. Don’t rush the process

Evaluating the skill level of new paraeducators is an important step that’s easily overlooked. Especially if you’re understaffed, it can be tempting to hire just anyone and throw them into the classroom. However, don’t rush this process.

Make sure you hire a paraeducator candidate who will be competent, respectful, and passionate about teaching. That often takes time. Looking for a paraeducator is sometimes like looking for an exceptional teacher. There are so many good candidates out there — you just have to be willing to take the time to find the best one. 

What is the Career Prospect for a Paraeducator?

Paraeducators in schools support students, teachers, and administrators by performing a variety of non-teaching and instructional tasks. As the role of paraeducators becomes more important in education, there are increasing opportunities for career growth for people in this field.

The US Department of Labor predicts that paraeducator jobs will grow at an average rate of 27% over the next decade. Increasing numbers of students with disabilities, as well as students who learn at a different pace and in a different way, require paraeducators. A great number of these positions are in urban areas.

How Much Money Can You Make As a Paraeducator?

If you are an experienced paraeducator or teaching assistant, you could make up to $60,000 a year in some states. This is a full-time job, so make sure to work full time. If you are a new assistant, you could make around $15 per hour in some states.

SEE: Discover some side hustles for teachers to make more money

FAQs

How is the work of a paraeducator different from that of a regular teacher?

Paraeducators (also known as teacher’s aides, classroom aides, or teacher’s assistants) often work alongside certified teachers in the classroom. However, their roles are not identical. While a paraeducator can assist students in many ways, they are not legally entitled to make many of the instructional decisions regarding students that a regular teacher makes. 

When do schools need a paraeducator?

Whenever a particular situation involves a greater number of people than teachers alone, schools will need paraeducators and all types of non-teaching professionals.

Many students in public schools today present with a wide variety of learning and behavioral needs that require additional resources. Paraeducators are members of the school’s educational team who provide much-needed assistance to classroom teachers in a variety of settings.

Final Thoughts

The school where a paraeducator works is well aware of the value of their service. When there is a teaching vacancy or additional help is needed, they step in to fill it. Although their duties vary from district to district, most paraeducator programs include specialized training in core subjects such as math and language arts.

Paraeducators have the capacity to assist special education teachers in a classroom setting as well as in one-on-one settings. In conclusion, paraeducators are just as important in the school system as teachers themselves are. Without them, it would be next to impossible for some teachers to do their jobs as well as they do.

You can also learn more about educational psychologists

Thanks for reading.