The Role of the Paraprofessional


August 2, 2023

A paraprofessional’s job can vary greatly depending on the classroom they’re in, but regardless of their specific role, paraprofessionals make the school day run more smoothly for everyone.

A paraprofessional, or teaching assistant, is an employee who assists and partners with teachers or other educational employees to deliver instructional or related services to students.

In the classroom, the paraprofessional reduces the student to adult ratio. They do not need to be certified teachers and do not teach students on their own. However, they can deliver lessons created by the teacher.

In addition to working in a classroom, they might work in a library or media center, in a computer lab, or conduct parent involvement activities. Or, their role could be to support the work of speech and language pathologists and occupational and physical therapists.

Here are some of the learning opportunities provided by paraprofessionals:

  • Giving students opportunities to practice new skills
  • Providing students with individualized instruction
  • Providing teachers with planning time
  • Leading small group instruction designed by the teacher
  • Providing support to groups of students
  • Supporting students with disabilities
  • Helping English language learners
  • Aiding students who have difficulties learning but who are not receiving Special Education services
  • Reteaching or reinforcing a previously learned skill
  • Providing academic, social, and emotional support
  • Helping students with personal care
  • Working with a student on their behavior intervention plan, using strategies developed for that student to help with problem behaviors. The paraprofessional encourages positive behavior while redirecting behavior that is unacceptable or off-task  
  • Working with parents to learn more about the child’s abilities and interests and the best ways to assist them

What makes a good paraprofessional?

  • Being good with kids – The paraprofessional should genuinely enjoy working with students of all types in all situations. Their role may involve enforcing classroom rules, something students may not always appreciate. The ability to maintain order calmly and with a sense of humor is essential.
  • Patience – Paraprofessionals might need to convey the same information over and over if they are working with a student who has learning difficulties. It is crucial that the paraprofessional remain supportive and positive at all times.
  • Communication – The paraprofessional must communicate well with students, which involves listening as well as speaking. The paraprofessional’s role may also involve communicating with parents about the child’s school day.
  • Knowing when to let the child lead – The best paraprofessionals look for ways to help a child become more independent, rather than hovering over them or providing too much assistance with their work.

In the special education setting, paraprofessionals need to be aware of goals, modifications, and accommodations for disabled students with whom they work directly. And, as with all team members, they need to clearly understand critical confidentiality requirements that go along with having access to that information.

In a nutshell, paraprofessionals extend the function and flexibility of the educational team. The support that paraprofessionals provide to the educational team goes a long way toward helping administrators retain staff and providing continuity of services for all students.