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Paraeducator Career Guide

What Is a Paraeducator?

A paraeducator is an extra teacher in the classroom, helping students that require personalized support reach their personal and educational goals. It’s a diverse role under the tutelage of a professional teacher, designed to maximize the amount of learning going on in a classroom. This often involves assisting students with special needs, assisting teachers with classroom preparation and management, and keeping administrative records of the students that they are working with.

teacher helping student

What Does a Paraeducator Do?

A paraeducator’s primary role is to help the students under their care thrive. They are often thought of as a teaching assistant or an additional pair of eyes in a classroom. Their presence can help maintain a calm teaching atmosphere, which improves the experience of all students in the class, not just those they are specifically helping. Here are some of the tasks that a paraeducator might be asked to perform during their working day.

  • Administrative tasks. A paraeducator could be asked to undertake several administrative tasks during their careers. They might be asked to take attendance, track learning statistics and records for the students under their care, or even assist the teacher with organizing and collating learning materials for the class.
  • Learning assistance. Paraeducators will spend most of their time providing learning assistance to students. The students that they’re working with may vary in background and ability, so a good paraeducator will use their knowledge of education and learning techniques to communicate clearly with them and get the key points of a class across.

Special needs children. Paraeducators are often hired to work with special needs children. So they must have a clear understanding of their needs and know how to work comfortably with them. A good paraeducator can help special needs students become more social and independent. Prior experience working with special needs students would pay dividends in this role.

How Do I Become a Paraeducator?

Becoming a paraeducator differs in every state, so it’s important to research the specifics. Some states require a two-year degree, others just require that applicants pass a state or local assessment. But anyone interested in enhancing their career past being a paraeducator would be best served by getting a bachelor’s degree. A degree in education is certain to improve students' chances of landing this job. Plus it provides the necessary background knowledge to thrive in this kind of role. 

Here are the steps towards becoming a paraeducator:

Step One: Earn a High School Diploma

Paraeducators will have to have a high school diploma or GED in order to be qualified for paraeducator positions. 

Step Two: Earn Some College Credits

In most states, 60 credits or an associate degree will likely be required to pursue paraeducator positions. Schools will want students who have committed to their own education and have taken some college courses that will be key in helping them be prepared for the classroom. General education classes that expand on important knowledge are extremely important for paraeducators. Knowing about writing, basics of science, history, and math are all important for those going into the classroom.

Step Three: Pass A District Test

Most school districts will have tests or assessments that paraeducators must pass in order to be qualified to work in a classroom. These tests will measure your abilities in math, English, reading, and more. But each school district will have their own assessment guidelines and standards that paraeducators will have to meet. 

Step Four: Paraeducator Certification

You’ll need to enroll in a paraeducator certification program to move forward in this career path. The  American Education Association offers this certification at the district level, or a community college near you may also offer this. This certification is the final step to getting you into the classroom as a paraeducator. 

How Can I Advance My Education Career?

If you’re currently a paraeducator or you’re interested in this career, a career as a teacher may be a great way to progress in your chosen field. Paraeducators don’t get to run their own classrooms, so for those who are ready for that step, becoming a teacher is a natural progression. In order to become a teacher you’ll need to take additional steps. 

Step One: Bachelor’s in Education

A paraeducator needs at least two years of college coursework or an associate degree. But aspiring paraeducators would stand out from the crowd or be prepared for enhancing their teaching career by getting a bachelor’s degree in education. Courses in this type of degree program will teach the basics of teaching theory and provide a solid foundation for a career as a paraeducator.

There are a wide variety of degrees on offer within education—students can focus on elementary education or secondary. Those that choose to focus on secondary education must choose an area of specialization i.e. mathematics, sciences, etc.

Another great option for paraeducators would be a BA in Special Education. This course would thoroughly prepare students for a career as a paraeducator or to move forward as a teacher. It offers modules on behavioral support strategies, collaboration with partners for student success, and ethical practices for special education. A degree like this would equip aspiring paraeducators with all the confidence they need to have a positive impact on the lives of the students they’re working with.

Step Two: Licenses, certificates, and skills

If you want to move your career forward and become a teacher, you’ll need to have a license. Each state has unique requirements for teaching licenses, so it’s best to research what the requirements are in your area. In general, teachers need to have a bachelor’s degree, pass a background check, take the Praxis exam, and have in-classroom experience.

Step Three: Job hunting

After completing a bachelor's degree and earning any licenses and certificates that might be necessary, prospective paraeducators are now ready to brush off their resume and enter the workforce. The time to do so has never been better—recent statistics show that there are over 140,000 openings every year for teaching assistants.

Best Degrees for a Paraeducator

Elementary Education – B.A.

An online teacher certification program for aspiring elementary...

An online teacher certification program for...

An online teacher certification program for aspiring elementary teachers.

Leads to teacher licensure. Specific grade levels will vary depending on teaching certification in your state.

  • Time: 60% of grads earned this degree within 36 months.
  • Tuition and fees: $3,770 per 6-month term.

Candidates for this program often include:

  • Aspiring elementary school teachers who currently lack a teaching license
  • Substitute teachers
  • Career-changers
  • School paraprofessionals
  • Others who feel the call to teach

This elementary education degree program includes courses in the foundations of teacher education, instructional planning and presentation, assessment, and classroom management. Core teacher education courses focus on diversity, disciplinary literacy, elementary education methods, and pedagogy. It requires in-classroom observation and a term of full-time demonstration teaching. This online teaching degree program helps you to be eligible for teaching certification in any of the 50 states.

Special Education and Elementary Education (Dual Licensure) – B.A.

An online teaching degree and teacher certification program for...

An online teaching degree and teacher...

An online teaching degree and teacher certification program for aspiring K–12 special education teachers. Leads to dual licensure—elementary education teaching license and special education teaching license.

(Specific grade levels will vary depending on licensure in your state.) If your state offers a single K–12 special education teaching license and you are interested in focusing on teaching students with mild to moderate exceptionalities, consider the B.A. Special Education (Mild to Moderate) online teaching degree. 

  • Time: 62% of grads earned this degree within 3½ years.
  • Tuition and fees: $3,770 per 6-month term.

Candidates for this online teaching degree often include:

  • Aspiring special ed teachers who currently lack a teaching license
  • Substitute teachers
  • Career-changers
  • School paraprofessionals
  • Others who feel the call to teach

This special education teaching online degree program prepares you to teach students with mild-to-moderate disabilities, with courses in the foundations of teaching, instructional planning and presentation, assessment, and classroom management. Core elementary and special education courses focus on diversity, disciplinary literacy, elementary education methods, and special education topics such as law, assessment, and behavioral management. This program requires in-classroom observation and a term of full-time demonstration teaching. Compare B.A. Special Education (Mild to Moderate)

 

Special Education (Mild to Moderate) – B.A.

An online teaching degree and teacher certification program for...

An online teaching degree and teacher...

An online teaching degree and teacher certification program for aspiring K–12 special education teacher. Leads to your teaching license in states that offer a single teaching license in K–12 special education.

This special education bachelor's degree program will help you prepare for an exciting future helping exceptional students. If your state requires—or if you're interested in—dual licensure in both elementary education and K–12 special education, consider the B.A. Special Education (K–12) program.

  • Time: 62% of grads finish similar online teaching degree programs within 3½ years.
  • Tuition and fees: $3,770 per 6-month term.

Candidates for this special education degree program often include:

  • Aspiring special ed teachers who currently lack a teaching license.
  • Substitute teachers.
  • Career-changers.
  • School paraprofessionals.
  • Others who feel the call to teach.

This online degree program includes coursework and assessments tailor-made for future teachers who are committed to working with students who have mild to moderate learning exceptionalities. It offers deep engagement in serving special education students and leads to your K–12 special education license in states that do not require dual elementary-ed and special-ed licensure. It also includes a preclinical experience with face-to-face observation hours and a Demonstration Teaching component hosted by an experienced teacher and directed by a clinical supervisor.

Compare B.A. Special Education (K–12)

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What Skills Does a Paraeducator Need?

A paraeducator doesn’t just need a strong background in education. They need a variety of skills that’ll allow them to communicate and assist students to the best of their abilities, not to mention fitting into the school’s educational team to help create a dynamic learning environment.

  • A love of teaching and helping others
  • Patience when working with students
  • Clear communication skills
  • Self-motivated and eager to help
  • The ability to work well as part of a team

How Much Does a Paraeducator Make?

$28,900

The U.S. Department of Labor (BLS) states that the average wage for a paraeducator was $28,900 in 2020. This will vary depending on the amount of experience a paraeducator has, and the state that they are employed in. Those in the lower 10% of the scale earn $19,610 per year, while the highest 10% make $44,290. The statistics on Glassdoor give an average salary of $32,000 per year, with the lower end making $23,000 and the higher pulling in around $44,000.

What Is the Projected Job Growth?

4%

The job outlook for paraeducators is rosy. The BLS anticipates a 4% growth rate during the 2019 - 2029 period. That’s in line with rising student enrollment across the States and translates to around 140,400 projected job openings per year during this period. The BLS believes most of these job openings are a result of workers retiring from the field of education.

Where Does a Paraeducator Work?

Schools

There were around 1.4 million jobs as a paraeducator in 2019. The vast majority (70%) end up working in public elementary and secondary schools. 11% find jobs in child daycare. And 8% are in the private education sector.

 

Interested in Becoming a Paraeducator?

Learn more about degree programs that can prepare you for this meaningful career.

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