Bringing Paraprofessionals to the Front of the Classroom

Written by: Amy Auletto

Primary Source:  Green & Write, March 13, 2017

In recent years, the responsibilities of paraprofessionals have expanded beyond basic tasks like monitoring school cafeterias.

Paraprofessionals, also referred to as teacher’s aides, classroom assistants, and more colloquially as parapros or paras, have become an indispensible resource in our schools. While these individuals once only performed basic duties like lunchroom monitoring and copying papers for teachers, paraprofessionals now frequently serve in instructional roles, providing direct services to students. Paraprofessionals provide small-group instruction to students, assist teachers in meeting the needs of special education students, and offer behavioral support and supervision. Schools typically hire paraprofessionals who reflect the demographics of the local community, providing students with diverse and culturally knowledgeable role models. In fact, a survey conducted by the National Education Association (NEA) found that three of every four paraprofessionals come from the local community and have lived there an average of 25 years.

Replenishing the Teacher Pipeline with Paraprofessionals

As discussed in a previous Green & Write piece, interest in the teaching profession has dropped in recent years and there may soon be serious teacher shortages. Fortunately, bringing paraprofessionals into the teacher pipeline may be one solution to this looming crisis.

Many paraprofessionals hope to become teachers in the future. An NEA survey reports that 49% of paraprofessionals would like to eventually have their own classrooms. Paraprofessionals are well-positioned to become teachers. They already have years of experience working with students and understand the roles and responsibilities of classroom teachers through their firsthand work in classrooms. Training paraprofessionals to become teachers is also an effective strategy for bolstering the diversity of the teaching workforce. Most teachers are white while most paraprofessionals who enter teaching are minorities. Even more encouraging is the fact that former paraprofessionals who go on to become teachers tend to stay in the profession at higher rates than other teachers.

There are barriers, however, for paraprofessionals who would like to enter the teaching profession. Paraprofessionals are typically older, have families, and are often the primary financial providers for their families. As such, there are costs to returning to school for a teaching certificate that may deter these individuals from entering the pipeline. Partnerships with local districts, academic and social support systems, and tuition assistance may be approaches to combating these barriers.

Lessons from Current Paraprofessional-to-Teacher Programs

There are a number of local programs that may offer insight into how we can encourage more individuals to enter teaching:

  • College for All Texans Educational Aide Exemption: Residents of Texas who demonstrate financial need and are currently employed as paraprofessionals are eligible for exemption from tuition and other fees if they enroll in a teacher certification program.
  • Florida’s Para to Teacher Tuition Support Program: Florida residents who hold an associate’s degree and currently work as paraprofessionals are eligible for tuition support to earn a bachelor’s degree in exceptional student education, deaf education, or education of the visually impaired.
  • New York City’s Leap to Teacher program: This program allows paraprofessionals working in NYC to attend Queens College for either undergraduate or graduate study. Services include evening courses, scholarship/grant opportunities, professional development, and test prep support.

While this list is certainly not exhaustive, these programs provide a brief overview of the types of support that may encourage more paraprofessionals to enter teaching. Students stand to gain quite a bit from paraprofessionals. Due to their familiarity with the local community, higher retention rates, and racial diversity, these individuals have the potential to benefit students in more significant ways than they are in their current roles. Given the serious need to replenish the teacher pipeline, it is critical that policymakers continue to develop strategies and supports that will facilitate the transition of paraprofessionals into teaching.

 

Contact Amy: aulettoa@msu.edu

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Amy Auletto
Amy Auletto is a doctoral student in Educational Policy. She is interested in the impact that equitable funding and access to effective teachers have on the educational outcomes of disadvantaged student populations. Prior to beginning her studies at Michigan State University, she taught middle school math in Detroit. Amy earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology, master of Social Work, and MA in educational studies from the University of Michigan.