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In this lesson, you’ll review a clearly defined explanation of what it means to be a paraprofessional in the classroom.

You’ll also review the roles and expectations of a paraprofessional teacher who works closely with students with special needs.

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What is a Paraprofessional?

The prefix para is Greek for ‘alongside another.’ You may have heard this prefix used with words such as parallel, paralegal, or even paragraph. But, what about the word paraprofessional teacher? This word is most commonly used in the field of education, referring to an individual who works closely with a certified classroom teacher to provide additional assistance to students.Paraprofessionals usually adhere to the same schedule as teachers, though their duties and responsibilities focus specifically on providing learning support, generally to students with special needs. Keep in mind that people in the field often shorten the word to ‘para’ or refer to these professionals as ‘educational paraprofessionals’ and sometimes ‘learning aides.’

Who Do Paraprofessionals Help?

Paraprofessionals mostly work with students who have disabilities, also sometimes referred to as special needs learners.

A special needs learner usually has a learning disability that requires an outlined plan of how they should be taught and supported in the classroom. Some who fall into this category may have disabilities related to autism, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or behavioral issues.Others who require a paraprofessional may have a physical handicap, such as being hearing impaired, vision impaired, or in a wheelchair. In any case, the paraprofessional works closely with the student’s case manager, the designated, certified professional who ensures that students are receiving proper accommodations.

Paraprofessionals generally provide learning support to students with special needs.

student aide

What Do Paraprofessionals Do?

Paraprofessionals are important for many different reasons. They support students in a variety of ways, and they provide help to teachers in the classroom. They may also collaborate with parents and case managers to ensure students are receiving the support they need to succeed.

Here are some examples of how paraprofessionals provide support to students in the classroom:

  • They may encourage positive behavior by redirecting off-task behavior.
  • They might push wheelchair-bound students from class to class.
  • They may provide students with helpful strategies for organizing work.
  • They may chaperone off-campus events for autistic students who may wander or have trouble socializing.

Now, let’s look at some examples of ways paraprofessionals support teachers in the classroom:

  • They may ensure that a hearing-impaired student sits in close proximity to the teacher.
  • Paraprofessionals may give the teacher tips for redirecting behavior based on a student’s behavioral plan.
  • They might ensure that visually-impaired students sit close enough to the board.
  • They may explain when a negative behavior is a manifestation of disabilities.

As you can see, providing support both to the student and to the teacher have the same outcome: improving the educational experience for students.

Becoming a Paraprofessional

The qualifications to become a paraprofessional vary by state and from one school district to another. Generally, it involves earning an associate’s degree in paraprofessional education and, in some states, professional certification as an educational paraprofessional.

Some school districts may require you to complete an assessment, and you may also need experience working in the school district to ensure you have a strong grasp of its policies and procedures.

Lesson Summary

Today’s classrooms are very diverse and continue to change with varying levels of languages, disabilities, learning talents, and physical needs. An educational paraprofessional, also known as a ‘para’ or ‘learning aide,’ works closely with a certified classroom teacher to provide additional support to such students, particularly those with special needs. Paraprofessionals also collaborate with case managers, who are the designated, certified professionals who ensure students are receiving proper accommodations, along with parents.

Becoming a paraprofessional can require an associate’s degree in paraprofessional education, certification, an assessment, and work experience in the school district.

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