If you're a paraprofessional educator, chances are you've thought about becoming a teacher. Maybe someone in your family suggested it would be a good career move for you. Maybe a teacher you've worked with has recognized your potential and encouraged you to think about teaching. Maybe you just like working with kids and think teaching would be the next logical step for you.
If you're considering making this change, you might have questions about how to find the right program of study. You may also be wondering how long it would take to become a teacher and what it would cost. These are legitimate concerns, so here are some ideas that you might find helpful.
Pathways to a Teaching Career
Requirements to be a paraprofessional educator vary from state to state. Some states require only a high school diploma, while others require two years of coursework. If you've already taken courses to be a paraprofessional, you may need only a couple more years of study to become a licensed teacher. You may have to start at the beginning if you've completed no college work at this point in your career, although some colleges grant course credit for relevant experience.
When considering college, check your state education department's website to get a sense of general requirements for a teaching degree. Some states, for example, require 10 weeks of student teaching before you can be hired as a classroom teacher. However, other states with severe teacher shortages, such as Arizona, allow new teachers to count their on-the-job experience as student teaching.
Next, think about your options for taking classes. Some people may decide to go back to school full time at an on-site college. But a growing number of people are electing to pursue their degree online while continuing to work at their regular jobs. Not only are online courses less expensive, but they offer the flexibility for students to take courses on demand to fit their personal schedules. As you gather information about your options, you might want to talk to an advisor at an online college to get a clearer picture of what you can expect if you enroll in a licensure program.
Check out a great infographic about the path from parapro to teacher here.
Why Consider a Career Change
Older paraprofessionals may think, "If I go back to school I'll be 40 (or 45 or 50) years old when I finish." That may be true, but if you don't go back to school, you'll be that age anyway without your degree. No matter your age, a career change can offer several benefits.
As a paraprofessional, you already know how to help kids learn, and you have a good understanding of what kind of support they need to succeed. With courses toward a college degree, though, you can build on what you already know and use your knowledge to greater effect. Taking courses to become a teacher will move you into the professional ranks and increase your earning power. Licensure will open doors to other opportunities you may not have considered at this point in your career.
Cost and Benefits
Of course, there are costs to going back to school, both in time and money. But the money you spend on college is an investment in your future. You stand to make much more money as a teacher than as a paraprofessional, and practically speaking, that increase can result in a better retirement. Most students discover that if they commit to obtaining their degree and have the support of their friends and family, they can set aside the time they need to complete their college work, too.
If you're a paraprofessional educator who has thought about stepping into a teaching position, maybe now is the time to see what it would take. You may be surprised to find that the pathway is easier than you thought!