Paraprofessionals: Who They Are and What They Do

By Ginny Osewalt
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At a Glance

  • Paraprofessionals are sometimes called instructional aides.

  • Paraprofessionals can help kids with learning and thinking differences in the classroom.

  • Some paraprofessionals work one-on-one with kids.

Paraprofessional is the fancy word to describe a host of people who surround and help your child every day at school. They are sometimes called classroom assistants, instructional aides, teacher assistants and paraeducators. They’re in a support role, and so they must be directed and supervised by a certified teacher or other school professionals.

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) uses the term “paraprofessional,” which is why you might see and hear this word a lot. Read on for information on the types of support paraprofessionals offer and other information.

Instructional Support

Paraprofessionals can work with students in general education classrooms; “inclusion classrooms” that include general education students and special education students taught together and in “self-contained classrooms” just for students with learning and thinking differences. A paraprofessional may work with your child one-on-one or in a small group to reinforce what she learned earlier from the teacher.

Paraprofessionals also provide extra support during a teacher’s instruction, so that the special education student can participate in the general education lesson. Although paraprofessionals mostly work with students who receive special education and related services or have a 504 plan, general education students may also work with the classroom paraprofessional.

Behavioral Support

Paraprofessionals often work with children who have challenging behaviors. If your child has a behavior intervention plan (BIP), a paraprofessional may watch her and take notes about her behavior during the day. These notes may be used to provide more insight into your child’s behavior.

Paraprofessionals will know strategies to help your child with behavior—like telling her when she’s doing well, giving her rewards and helping her to stop aggressive behavior. Paraprofessionals are often trained to jump in and help in a crisis.

Physical and Medical Support

Some paraprofessionals work with children who have physical challenges. A paraprofessional can help feed, move or take a child to the bathroom. Paraprofessionals may work with the school nurse.

Paraprofessionals also can work with children that need medical support. For instance, they may help children who are at risk for seizures or have severe allergies.

One-on-One Paraprofessionals

Your child may have a one-on-one paraprofessional if she requires more support. The one-on-one paraprofessional will work just with your child and may also go with your child to occupational therapy, speech therapy or other therapies and field trips, too.

If your child has challenging behaviors and has a behavior intervention plan (BIP), her paraprofessional will be watching your child’s behavior, taking notes and providing support as outlined in his BIP.

Qualifications

Paraprofessionals come from a variety of backgrounds. They must have knowledge and skills to be good at working with children, although they learn these skills mostly on the job. A paraprofessional must enjoy working with children, have a positive attitude and be a team player. A good paraprofessional needs to know when to step back and encourage a child to be independent, but also when to step in when something isn’t right.

Under ESSA, paraprofessionals provide teaching support and must meet one of these requirements:

  • Finished two years of study at college, community college or technical school

  • Associate’s degree, or higher

  • Take a formal test or examination that shows knowledge of and the ability to assist in reading, writing and math instruction

Working with your child’s paraprofessional can be beneficial. Find out how you can partner with your child’s paraprofessional.

Key Takeaways

  • Paraprofessionals are directed and supervised by a teacher and can provide teaching, behavior and personal care support.

  • Paraprofessionals can work with groups of students or just one student.

  • Paraprofessionals have to meet certain requirements under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

About the Author

About the Author

Ginny Osewalt 

is a dually certified elementary and special education teacher with more than 15 years of experience in general education, inclusion, resource room, and self-contained settings.

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