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Paraeducator Career


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.


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.

Assisting 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?

The process for becoming a paraeducator differs in every state, so it’s important to research the specifics. Some states require a two-year degree, while others just require that applicants pass a state or local assessment. But anyone interested in enhancing their career past being a paraeducator would do well to earn a bachelor’s degree. A degree in education is certain to improve one's chances of landing this job. Plus, the skills learned in a degree program provide the necessary background knowledge to thrive in this kind of role. 

Here are the steps to become a paraeducator:

Step One: Earn a high school diploma

Paraeducators most hold 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 preparing them for success in the classroom. General education classes that expand on important knowledge are extremely important for paraeducators. Having the ability to teach writing, the basics of science, history, and math are all important for those going into the classroom to become paraeducators.

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 measure 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. A paraeducator certification is the final step to prepare to enter 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: Earn a bachelor’s degree in education

At a minimum, paraeducators generally need to complete 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 educational studies. Courses in these degree program will teach the basics of teaching theory and provide a solid foundation for a career as a paraeducator.

There are many degrees offered within education—students can focus on educational studies, elementary education, or secondary. Those that choose to focus on secondary education must choose an area of specialization like mathematics or science

Another great option for paraeducators is a B.A. in Special Education. This degree thoroughly prepares 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 gives aspiring paraeducators the confidence to have a positive impact on the lives of the students they’re working with.

Step Two: Gain 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 must have a bachelor’s degree, pass a background check, pass the Praxis exam, and have in-classroom experience.

Step Three: Begin job hunting and secure a job

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 résumés 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 teachers....

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: 68% of students finish this degree within 36 months.
  • Tuition: $3,825 per 6-month term.
  • Courses: 38 total courses in this program (39 for Washington residents)

Skills for your résumé included in this program:

  • Elementary Reading Methods
  • Language Arts Instruction
  • Elementary Mathematics Methods
  • Elementary Disciplinary Literacy
  • Children’s Literature

This elementary education degree program requires in-classroom observation and a term of full-time student teaching. This online teaching degree program helps you to be eligible for teaching certification in any of the 50 states.


Educational Studies – B.A.

These online, non-licensure educational studies degrees prepare you to...

These online, non-licensure educational studies degrees prepare you to make a difference in a field that interests you.

Based on your career goals and interests, you can choose an educational studies program in one of 10 content areas that meets your needs while working toward employment in school settings, corporate training, or instructional design. These programs do not lead to a teaching license.

  • Time: Completion time varies depending on the specialty track you choose.
  • Tuition: $3,825 per 6-month term.
  • This bachelor's degree allows students to learn about education but does not include student teaching and it does not lead to a teaching license.

Focus areas of this educational studies degree program include:

  • Elementary Education
  • Elementary and Special Education
  • Mild to Moderate Special Education
  • Secondary Biology Science Education
  • Secondary Chemistry Science Education
  • Secondary Earth Science Education
  • Secondary Physics Education
  • Middle Grades Science Education
  • Secondary Mathematics Education
  • Middle Grade Mathematics Education

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

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

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.

  • Time: 60% of students finish this degree within 38 months.
  • Tuition: $3,825 per 6-month term.
  • Courses: 44 total courses in this program (45 for Washington residents).

(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. 

Skills for your résumé included in this program:

  • Elementary Reading Methods
  • Elementary Mathematics Methods
  • Elementary Social Studies Methods
  • Elementary Science Methods
  • Language Arts Instruction and Intervention

This special education teaching online degree program requires in-classroom observation and a term of full-time student teaching. 


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

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

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

  • Time: 61% of students finish this program within 34 months.
  • Tuition: $3,825 per 6-month term.
  • Courses: 39 total courses in this program.

 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.

Skills for your résumé included in this program:

  • Lesson Planning
  • Ethics
  • Behavioral Support Strategies
  • Educational Psychology & Development
  • Classroom Management

This online degree program includes a preclinical experience with face-to-face observation hours and a Student Teaching component hosted by an experienced teacher and directed by a clinical supervisor.

How Much Does a Paraeducator Make?


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?


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.


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

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Interested in Becoming a Paraeducator?

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