What Is a Paraprofessional?

Educational Paraprofessionals Assist Teachers and Students

Teacher helping student with work in classroom
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A paraprofessional is an educational worker who is not licensed to teach, but performs many duties both individually with students and organizationally in the classroom. Your child may be assigned a one-on-one paraprofessional as part of his or her IEP. Or, your child may interact with a paraprofessional assigned to the classroom. Paraprofessionals may also provide instructional support in the computer lab, library, or media center, conduct parental involvement activities, or act as a translator.

A paraprofessional also may be called a paraeducator, teaching assistant, instructional assistant, aide. Informally, they may be referred to as a parapro or para.

What Paraprofessionals Do in the Classroom

The No Child Left Behind Act expanded the qualifications required to become a paraprofessional, as well as the duties paraprofessionals are permitted to carry out. In general, paraprofessionals should be working in support of the teacher, and not teaching themselves.

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. 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.

 

Paraprofessionals often work in special education classrooms. They can work with a child who has a behavior intervention plan to take notes and use the strategies that have been identified to help the child with the problem behaviors. She may encourage positive behavior or redirect the child who is engaging in an off-task behavior.

For children with physical challenges, the paraprofessional can assist with feeding and using the bathroom and might help transport a wheelchair-bound child or child prone to wandering to get around the school.

Paraprofessionals often provide one-on-one instructional assistance under the direct supervision of the qualified teacher.

Qualifications for Paraprofessionals

The U.S. Department of Education site has information on the qualifications for professionals according to Section 1119 of Title I, as amended by the No Child Left Behind Act. 

Title 1 paraprofessionals must have a high school diploma or equivalent. They must have completed two years of college study or obtained at least an associate's degree or met quality standards and passed an assessment. Each state determines the exact requirements, which may include a certification. Further qualifications vary by school district.

These standards set apart paraprofessionals from other school workers, such as food service workers or playground assistants.

Paraprofessionals must be good at working with children and enjoy working with them, maintaining a positive and encouraging attitude. They are part of the educational team and must work closely with the teacher and others in the school.

They must also be able to work with parents, learning more about the child's abilities and interests and best ways to assist them. Often, paraprofessionals learn these skills on the job as will as taking additional training throughout their careers.

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