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Your Career as an Education Paraprofessional



Excited about the idea of working in education but not sure if you want to be a teacher? Then consider becoming an education paraprofessional. The experience may help you decide to pursue a career as a teacher or choose a life-long career as an education paraprofessional. Either way, the opportunities have never been greater.


OPPORTUNITIES

As the educational needs of students have grown more diverse, so have the opportunities for those considering careers as education paraprofessionals. Today, some 980,000 education paraprofessionals work under job titles such as these:

  • Teacher aide or assistant
  • Instructional aide or assistant
  • Special education assistant
  • Preschool or early childhood assistant
  • Bilingual assistant
  • Library assistant

Education paraprofessionals also work in a variety of settings that include:

  • Preschools and day care centers
  • Elementary schools
  • Middle schools, and Junior and senior high schools
  • Vocational education centers
  • Community colleges
  • Adult education programs

EMPLOYMENT OUTLOOK

The demand for education paraprofessionals has increased steadily since the 1950s. That demand is fueled today by a nationwide education reform movement that calls for paraprofessionals to help teachers make classroom instruction more effective, efficient and tailored to the individual needs of students. Also, more education paraprofessionals are moving into the teaching ranks, thus opening positions for newcomers.

DUTIES AND RESPONSIBILITIES

Although duties and responsibilities vary for each job title, education paraprofessionals generally work with one or several classroom teachers to assist with these tasks:

  • Supporting instruction, tutoring and supervision of individual students or small groups of students;
  • Assisting with classroom management and monitoring of student behavior;
  • Preparing classroom materials, projects, demonstrations and visual displays;
  • Monitoring and scoring tests and class assignments;
  • Clerical duties, such as keeping attendance records;
  • Operating audiovisual equipment and computers; and
  • Collecting fees and performing general housekeeping duties.

JOB REQUIREMENTS

Job requirements vary from state to state, employer to employer and according to the duties that are to be performed. A high school diploma or its equivalent is required by every state, but some employers also require some college. There are federal requirements for paraprofessionals who work with students in Title I programs. For information on those requirements, go to the AFT's site on NCLB.

Others hire only those who have completed special two-year training programs. Some states also have strict regulations governing the employment of education paraprofessionals. A few require special licensing or certification much in the same way they do for teachers. (Contact your state department of education for more information on job requirements or check the Status of State-Level Certification page on the AFT Web site for current state regulations.)

Aspiring education paraprofessionals should be able to work well with a team of teachers, administrators and other paraprofessionals. They also must have a genuine love for learning and the ability and patience to communicate with students and to motivate them in a variety of activities.

SALARY AND CAREER ADVANCEMENT

Education paraprofessionals are usually paid on an hourly basis and normally work during the nine to 10 months that schools are in session. Salaries average about $12 per hour; although salaries can range from as low as minimum wage to as high as $20 per hour.

Both salaries and opportunities for career advancement continue to improve, due in large part to the efforts of AFT PSRP and other organizations working on behalf of education paraprofessionals.

For example, in many places, AFT PSRP affiliates have negotiated with employers to create "career ladders" that allow paraprofessionals to earn more money as they acquire new skills and take on more responsibility. Often, the union has negotiated tuition reimbursement or special training to help paraprofessionals acquire skills needed to improve their positions or even to attain state teaching licenses or certificates.

GETTING STARTED

The best way to get started in a career as an education paraprofessional is to contact the employer for whom you would like to work and ask about job opportunities and requirements.

If formal training beyond a high school diploma is required, the employer may be able to recommend training programs through local vocational centers, community colleges or four-year colleges.

If you are a high school student considering a career as an education paraprofessional, contact your school guidance counselor to learn more about job requirements as well as ideas for gaining job-related experience through work as a babysitter, volunteer teacher aide or camp counselor.

Recommended high school courses include:

  • English
  • Math and science
  • History and social studies
  • Psychology
  • Art
  • Speech
  • Health and physical education

AFT PSRP MEMBERSHIP

If you choose a career as an education paraprofessional, you may want to consider membership in the American Federation of Teachers Paraprofessional and School Related Personnel division (AFT PSRP) once you are on the job.

AFT PSRP membership benefits include:

  • Free liability insurance, free accidental death insurance and discounts on other insurance plans;
  • Access to legal services for job-related cases;
  • Publications prepared especially for education paraprofessionals;
  • Conferences and workshops on educational issues; and
  • Discounts on travel, prescriptions, magazine subscriptions and car rental (for other member benefits information, visit the AFT PLUS Web page).

AFT PSRP also works for its members to improve salaries, benefits and working conditions through negotiations with local employers and through lobbying at the state and national levels of government.

AFT PSRP is one of the nation's leading advocates of education reform and school restructuring to provide more individualized instruction for students. AFT PSRP advocacy will continue to create a greater demand and even better career opportunities for education paraprofessionals in the years ahead.