The emphasis on state standards and uniform student achievement in recent years has seen the rise of the paraprofessional in special education settings. This individual performs a unique task that doesn’t necessarily involve direct teaching or the most common responsibilities assigned to a special education teacher. As a result, paraprofessionals in today’s classrooms are not required to have either the same level of education or the same certifications as their teacher counterparts. Candidates with an interest in special education and helping students achieve should consider the unique responsibilities and requirements for this increasingly popular position as they begin to enter the job market for paraprofessionals in nearby districts.
The Job: What Does a Paraprofessional Do?
Special education is quite a bit different from the standard classroom environment. Teachers often convey concepts in completely different ways, while students require more intensive instruction, more involvement from tutors and mentors, and more hands-on learning activities that help to drive concepts home. This is where the paraprofessional comes in. This role is reserved for those who wish to become an active part of the class, rather than stand in front of it. They sit and learn alongside students and, when students are given classwork, they answer questions and offer advice.
Essentially, the paraprofessional is a student’s first resource when they need extra learning support. These professionals also help students understand test questions and homework questions, so that their work is on par with their counterparts outside of the special education program at a given school.
Education Requirements: Be Aware That Standards Vary From State to State
Historically, paraprofessionals have not had to have a degree in teaching in order to be hired as full-time or part-time assistants in today’s classrooms. In fact, many states across the country allow paraprofessionals to be hired as long as they have taken just a few college courses in either education or a content-specific area like math, English, or one of the sciences. This makes it one of the most accessible education occupations in the United States, and it opens up education to an entirely new group of individuals who may find themselves drawn to teacher certification and special education teaching at some point in the future.
Though a college degree is not required by some states, regulations are tightening up as special education becomes more important to state standards and achievement. Many states do require that paraprofessionals bring a bachelor’s degree with them to the job interview, though there is currently no state that requires the degree to be in education. It’s worth looking into state regulations of the paraprofessional occupation before applying to open positions, simply to ensure that any minimum education requirements have been met and that the job will be within reach.
Related Resource: Special Education Coordinator
Occupational Growth Looks Strong Through the End of the Decade
Thanks to increased emphasis on standards and achievement, the role of the paraprofessional has grown in recent years. The job outlook for this career has also grown. While such positions were once thought to be in decline, today they’re expected to grow by about nine percent each year through the end of the decade. That’s good news for applicants, who will likely have a much easier time landing this position now than they would have even a half-decade ago. Thanks to this growth and new responsibilities on the job, a paraprofessional in special education classrooms will get great insight into education and experience that can help them advance into new roles over time.