Paraprofessionals not only help the teachers to ensure that students are meeting curriculum goals, but will also often work with pupils on developing basic life skills, such as dressing, feeding themselves and managing their social interactions.
The role of a special education paraprofessional is to assist the teacher in assessing the child’s individual needs, developing a lesson plan to meet those needs and then implementing that plan. Paraprofessionals often participate in the creation of Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) for each child, a process that includes the teacher, representatives from the school administration, and the child’s parents.
Paraprofessionals – also known as “paras” – help teachers to track the students’ progress and prepare written evaluations for the IEP team. They may also work as an “aide” alongside a special needs child who is being integrated into a typical classroom. Sometimes, paraprofessionals will assist the resource teacher, who pulls special needs students out of their regular classroom for one-on-one or small group learning.
Paraprofessionals in the field of special education can work with children of any age, from infancy through high school and beyond, although most choose early on in their careers to specialize with either an age or a developmental need/disability. Paraprofessionals are utilized in both public and private schools, as well as group homes that accommodate children with profound special needs.
While special education teachers must have a minimum education level of a bachelor’s degree plus state certification, paraprofessionals do not have the same requirements.
The standards vary widely between states, ranging from just a high school diploma to an associate degree to at least two years of a college education. Many paras work toward their bachelor’s degree in education while working full-time.
Additionally, specialized coursework in child development, special education, social work and rehabilitation may be required by the state or desired by the school. These standards are typically less stringent at private schools.
Paraprofessional wages directly correlate to level of education. Some paraprofessionals hold teaching certification, which allows them to earn higher salaries. Paraprofessionals without a teaching degree often earn hourly rates. According to the Department of Labor, paraprofessionals typically earn from $11 to $14 per hour depending on years of experience. Paraprofessionals with over 10 years of experience may earn as much as $17 per hour. Most paraprofessionals work full time with the same hours as a special education teacher.