Office and Admin

How to Become a Paraprofessional

become a paraprofessional
Written by Kate Lopaze

When you think of a classroom, you may think of one teacher at the head of the class, working with a group of students. What you may not consider is that many classrooms have another adult there, helping students learn—a paraprofessional, or teaching assistant.

What Does a Paraprofessional Educator Do?

Paraprofessionals are an essential part of the education system—think of them as classroom all-stars. They may work closely with teachers on general classroom lessons or tasks, or work one-on-one with students who have special needs or disabilities. Paraprofessionals can be found in elementary schools, secondary schools, or daycare facilities. Their tasks may include:

  • Assisting teachers with lessons or classroom activities
  • Assisting teachers with paperwork
  • Helping teachers with lesson planning
  • Preparing classroom equipment or technology
  • Working with students who need individualized attention in the classroom
  • Supplementing classroom lessons with additional guidance or activities
  • Tutoring students who need extra help
  • Monitoring student behavior both in the classroom and at school activities
  • Assisting students who have special physical needs (lifting, feeding, moving)
  • Processing homework
  • Taking classroom attendance

Paraprofessionals may also choose to specialize. For example, some paraprofessionals work in school libraries/media centers. Some are assigned to specific classrooms. Some work exclusively with special education students. Paraprofessionals can be found in all types of schools, plus childcare facilities as well.

What Skills Do Paraprofessional Educators Have?

Paraprofessional educators need many of the same skill sets that any teacher would need, given that they work directly with students in an educational setting. These are some of the most crucial skills you’d need to have as a paraprofessional:

They Like KIds

This may seem like a no-brainer, but if you don’t like kids, or have trouble relating to them, this would be a very challenging career path. Patience is a major asset for anyone working with students.

They’re Team Players

Paraprofessionals are part of a squad of teachers, administrators, and support staff who help educate students. Knowing how to work as part of a team to maintain students’ best interests is essential.

They’re Great Communicators

Paraprofessionals may be called upon to teach new concepts to kids, or translate information so that a student can learn and understand. Paraprofessionals may also be in the position of having to interpret what a student is trying to say, so listening skills are key as well. Because paraprofessionals will need to communicate with students, teachers, administrators, and possibly parents/guardians, the ability to communicate clearly and articulately is a major part of the job.

They’re Organized

If you’ve ever been in a classroom, you may have noticed that good organization can be the difference between a calm learning environment and chaos that distracts everyone from the tasks at hand. As a paraprofessional, you should have a good sense of organization when it comes to recordkeeping and classroom behavior.

They’re Good Teachers

Paraprofessionals are often assistants and helpers, but they are also educators. As an educator, you should have the ability to teach information to students of varying abilities and learning styles.

What Education Do Paraprofessionals Need?

Paraprofessionals can usually get started in the field without a four-year college degree, but it helps to have completed some college courses or an Associate’s degree, particularly in Education.

Each state and school district has its own rules for paraprofessional certification, so you should see what your state requires. However, many require that paraprofessionals complete an aptitude test (like ETS’s ParaPro exam) to certify that these educators meet a minimum standard.

How Much Do Paraprofessionals Get Paid?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, paraprofessionals earn a median salary of $25,410 per year. This can vary according to location, and paraprofessionals who are multilingual, or who specialize in areas like special needs or special education, can earn more as well.

What’s the Outlook for Paraprofessionals?

While education changes constantly, some parts of it never do—there will always be a need for qualified teaching professionals to assist in classrooms and work with students. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the field will grow by about 6% by 2024—about the average for all occupations.

Becoming a paraprofessional is a great option if you’re just figuring out whether you want to work in education in the long term, or if you know you want to be an educator but just aren’t ready to complete the education and certification required of teachers. Being an educator is one of the most challenging and rewarding paths you can choose, and if you think it just might be your calling, becoming a paraprofessional could be your ideal first step.

About the author

Kate Lopaze

Kate Lopaze is a writer, editor, and digital publishing professional based in New York City. A graduate of the University of Connecticut and Emerson College with degrees in English and publishing, she is passionate about books, baseball, and pop culture (though not necessarily in that order), and lives in Brooklyn with her dog.