Working with Paraprofessionals
Authors: Tom McIntyre (Dr. Mac) and Nilifer Odabas

     While certified or licensed professionals are ultimately responsible for success and safety of the students in our classrooms, those tasks would be much more difficult if it were not for paraprofessionals.  They have become essential providers of special education support in our schools.

 In recent years, paraprofessionals have  typically been hired to serve in inclusive classrooms.  Most assist teachers with the entire class roster, meeting the needs of certain students with disabilities while assisting others too.  Some serve as "one-to-one" aides, solely serving the needs of a student with a severe disability.

Who Are The Paraprofessionals?
       Paraprofessionals work as support personnel under the supervision of certified school professionals.  Paras serving in special education positions assist teachers in both instructional and/or non-instructional tasks.

     Paraprofessionals are known by a variety of job titles, depending on the school district and assigned duties.  Some of the more common professional names are:
    -instructional assistant
    -teaching assistant
    -teacher assistant
    -teacher aide
    -personal aide
    -classroom aide
    -instructional aide
    -education aide

     Paraprofessionals enter their educational employment from a variety of backgrounds.  Many have parental and child care experience, some have none.  Some have had years of experience as assistants or volunteers in educational programs, others have no such experience.   Some lack a high school diploma (or equivalent), while others may possess a college degree.  The minimum amount of educational training and experience required of a paraprofessional is usually determined by the individual school system (although some states have outlined basic qualifications for paraprofessionals).

     Paraprofessionals assume a variety of responsibilities and perform a multitude of tasks. They influence positive changes in academic achievement and behavior in a number of ways that include (depending on the job description):
    -reading to students
    -listening to students read
    -providing one-to-one instruction
    -directing small-group work
    -reading a story to small groups of special needs students
    -assisting a small groups of special children in reviewing their work
    -physically assisting students to do their work
    -assisting students with personal needs (e.g., eating, dressing, positioning, lifting/carrying,  bus loading)
    -assisting students with personal care (e.g., bathing/cleansing, grooming, toileting)
    -assisting students in using adaptive equipment or devices
    -motivating children with emotional needs as a motivator and model for positive behaviors
    -serving as a positive role model to students with behavioral/emotional disabilities
    -facilitating appropriate peer interactions and social skills
    -intervening in positive ways to support & encourage relationships between students with & without disabilities
    -assisting any and all students in classrooms with students with disabilities are included
    -meeting the needs of students with disabilities while also assisting others in a support role
    -solely serving the needs of one student with a severe disability
    -developing positive working relationships with school personnel and families
    -serving as family liaison
    -serving as a translator
    -taking attendance
    -handling paperwork and money
    -checking and grading homework
    -correcting papers
    -photocopying, filing, and doing "go-fer" errands
    -providing material adaptation: modifying written materials and equipment to meet
            the needs of the student(s) with whom they work
    -assisting the teacher in arranging classroom chairs, desks, and material and equipment.
    -attending team meetings
    -assisting with daily and weekly planning for the student(s)
    -maintaining student records
    -moving students from one place to another during transitions
    -accompanying students (e.g., in hallways, at lunch, and recess, and in special subject areas such as art and music)
    -assisting students with classroom projects
    -monitoring cafeterias and playgrounds
    -participating in staff development
          AND a whole lot more

Developing A Positive Working Relationship With Your Para(s)
     It is not unusual for teachers to be assigned to work with one or more of our valued colleagues in the classroom.
Paraeducators perform a variety of instructional (individual and/or group) duties and non-instructional tasks (e.g.,
ordering items, preparing materials and bulletin boards, paperwork, data collection, etc.).  A productive
teacher-para relationship allows more time for you to plan instruction and perform assessments.  A second capable
adult in the classroom makes it possible to give our students more personalized attention.

     It is your responsibility to direct, delegate and assess the performance of your assistants in their assigned
duties.  Due to the differences in personality, ability, training, and experience, perhaps the primary challenge is
determining which duties to assign to the paraeducator.

     A number of things can be done to create a positive relationship with educational assistants:
-Have your para log onto the paraprofessional training web site listed on the "Web sites" link on the home page
( This comprehensive training program can help your para to become more positive and

-Set up and maintain an effective system of communication between yourself and your paraprofessional.  S/he
should be made aware of the goals for students, your behavior management system and his/her part in it, and why
particular techniques are used with certain students.  This awareness helps to insure that the paraprofessional is
abiding by your expectations.  Meet regularly to review issues.

-If you are assigned more than one para, be sure that they have an effective way of communicating about students
and practices (to you and each other).

-Be sure that you are the delegator of duties and the determiner of how those duties are to be accomplished.  You
are the director in the classroom.  All variations in policy and procedures should be reviewed with you before
changes are made.  While we must give up some of our control and trust the abilities of our paras, we do not give up
our role as the primary figure in the classroom, responsible for what happens in there.

-Many of our assistants have little or no training.  On-the-job coaching is an important part of working with
paraprofessionals.  Your patient and directive guidance regarding instructional strategies and behavior
management procedures help your team to become more capable and supportive.  Communicate to your paras that
they are important figures in the classroom.  Recognize effort and progress.  Encourage.

-Be honest, specific and supportive in the evaluation of your paraprofessional.  Be sure to sandwich any criticisms
between a recognition of strengths and areas of improvement.  End by setting goals for continued positive change.

-Set up procedures to be followed if you or your para are feeling ill and are considering calling in sick (I never took a sick day unless I was well enough to enjoy it.  I once used up all of my sick days and had to call in dead!)

-Arrange procedures to inform the substitute teacher of lessons and behavior plans if you are absent.

-Get to know your parapro on a personal basis.  What did s/he do over the weekend?  How are his/her kids doing?  Where did s/he grow up?  What is his/her favorite (non-alcoholic) drink.   

How Can We Assure That Our Paras Are Skilled?
     Effective schools assess paraprofessional training needs.  Training and mentoring are then provided.  Depending on experience, previous training, and education, paraprofessionals may need staff development in order to competently complete their duties.  Depending on background and assigned responsibilities, any of the following areas may need to be addressed:
    -behavior management
    -communication skills
    -computer skills
    - assistive technology
    -special education processes, procedures, and legal requirements
    -the intent and practice of inclusion
    -background information regarding specific disabilities (especially the ones with which they will be working)
    -learning styles
    -teaching of basis academic skills
    -effectively interacting with related service providers
    -district policies
    -curriculum-based practices

 Certain tasks in the classroom are the sole responsibility of certified teachers, those people with the professional license and legal responsibilities for the welfare of their students.  Tasks which are usually the sole responsibility of the special and/or regular education teachers include:
    -writing classroom lesson plans
    -planning, implementing, and evaluating lesson plans for special education children
    -assigning responsibilities to paraprofessionals that match their skills, traits, and knowledge base
    -supervising instructional activities performed by the assigned paraprofessional
    -implementing the lesson plans
    -writing long-term and short term objectives for Individualized Education Plans
    -devising daily activities, and materials necessary for the students to meet their IEP goals
    -assuring that IEP procedures and modifications are implemented
    -guaranteeing implementation of the Behavior Intervention Plan part of the IEP
    -providing "behavior supports" to the students
    -keeping anecdotal records on students
    -conducting informal and curricular assessments
    -administering, scoring, and interpreting a series of standardized (and other) tests
    -writing progress reports and report cards

What Qualities Would I Look for When Choosing a Paraprofessionals? (If you have a choice)
    -Ability to carry out the teacher's instructions.
    -Punctuality in arrivals and departures.  Routine is very important for children with special needs.
    -Ability to effectively communicate with others.  Able to give clear instructions and directions to
            children with whom they are working.  Able to communicate effectively with teachers and administrators.
    -Ability to maintain confidentiality, especially with children with disabilities.  Privileged information
            should not be spread around the school or community.
    -Flexibility; able to easily adjust to changes in schedules and routines.
    -Emotionally stable and cooperative.  Able to consider and accept new ideas and suggestions
            for appropriate practice.
    -Other talents pertinent to the position

Concerns to Address in the Use of Paras with Students with Disabilities
     Paraprofessionals are employed in order to increase instructional quality and time for students with disabilities and to assure safety amongst all children.  Inclusion classrooms would be difficult to manage and run effectively without paraprofessionals.  However, there are a number of concerns that exist when paras work individually with students who have disabilities:
   -Teachers might avoid assuming responsibility for the education of the disabled youngsters.  Many special needs students
    spend most of the day with paraprofessionals who are not certified in teaching.  Does it make any sense to have the least trained
    people teaching the students with the most complex needs?   Does it make sense for untrained folks to be planning curricula
    and activities, and instructing students?  Would general ed parents allow their children to be educated by uncertified
   -Disabled students might be separated from classmates, rather than included.
   -Intensive individualized instruction from paras might foster dependence on adults.
   -Paras may not have the training or skills to provide adequate guidance or instruction.

    Paras need training to be optimally effective.  To further assure that your para(s) are able to reach and teach our kids, check out the resources listed below.   (or call Dr. Mac to conduct staff development sessions)



Nancy French (2003). Managing paraeducators in your school: How to hire, train, and supervise non-certified staff.
Thousand Oaks, CA:Corwin Press

Michael Giangreco, Susan Edelman, & Stephen Broer (2001). Respect, appreciation, and acknowledgment of
paraprofessionals who support students with disabilities. Exceptional Children, volume 67, issue #4, pages 485-498.

Mary Lasater, Marlene Johnson, & Mary Fitzgerald (2000). Completing the educational mosaic: Paraeducator professional development options. Teaching Exceptional Children, volume 33, issue 1, pages 46-51.

Patricia Mueller & Francis Murphy (2001). Determining when a student requires paraeducator support. Teaching
Exceptional Children, volume 33, issue #6, pages 22-27.

Anna Lou Pickett, and Kent Gerlach (1997). Supervising paraeducators in school settings.  Order from the Council for Exceptional Children at 1-8888-232-7733  or

Diane Twachtman-Cullen (19**). How to be a para pro (primarily for paras who work with autistic kids). Available from National Professional Resources at 800/453-7461.

Wendy Dover (19**). The classroom teacher's guide for working with para-educators (workbook).  Available from
National Professional Resources at 800/453-7461.

The classroom teachers guide to working with para-educators(video series).  Available from National Professional
Resources at 800/453-7461.

Paraeducators and IDEA.  Obtain from the National Education Association at 202/822-7350.

Teri Wallace, Johgho Shin, Tom Bartholomay, & Barbara Stahl (2001). Knowledge and skills for teachers supervising the work of paraprofessionals. Exceptional Children, volume 67, issue #4, pages 520-533.

Web Sites
Paraeducator Resource and Learning Center (PRLC),

Paraeducator Resource Page (US Dept. of Education)
    This site has links to reports and information that may be of interest to paraeducators.

Montana Paraeducator Development Project

Dr. Soozee's Sp Ed Garden

U.S. government site discusses the nature of work regarding teacher aides

This is your duty, pup.  You're the certified canine.
Fetch Dr. Mac's Home Page

*Nilifur Odabas is a graduate of the behavior disorders emphasis of the masters program in special education at Hunter College of the City University of New York.

Revised 2/9/05 with addtional link cited

Contact Author: Tom McIntyre at