Supporting Paraeducator Professionalism
Paraeducators are committed to their profession.
Consider these facts: On average, paraeducators have been working in the field for more than nine years, 70 percent plan to stay in the ESP field, and 56 percent intend to stay in their current jobs until retirement. (From the 2002 Status of NEA K—12 ESP Membership Study)
Paraeducators embrace the professional values and goals of NEA, which place student achievement at their core. Professionalism is exemplified in the dedication paraeducators bring to their career.
Full career partners in the quest for educational excellence and reform, paraeducators are an integral part of the instructional process. Like other members of the education team, paraprofessionals embody professionalism in all the settings in which teaching and learning take place.
Paraeducators have a strong professional identity. They advocate for their profession by maintaining positive, supportive, collaborative, and professional relationships with other members of the education team.
Representing NEA Paraeducators in the Work Place
Paraeducators comprise the largest segment of NEA’s Education Support Professionals membership and their numbers are growing. NEA supports paraeducators in many ways.
The NEA ESP Quality department provides ongoing support and resources for paraeducators. Paraeducators can keep up to date on issues that affect their work on this Web site. NEA makes available resources such as this handbook on many topics, including paraeducators and IDEA 2004.
NEA’s support for paraeducators includes:
- Helping states develop their paraeducator programs;
- Working on behalf of legislative efforts that support paraeducators and informing members about requirements that affect them (e.g., NCLB and IDEA 2004);
- Including NEA paraeducators in efforts to develop partnerships within school districts and communities;
- Advocating for more precise job descriptions for paraeducators, which will lead to more appropriate evaluations and the enhanced quality of their work;
- Emphasizing the professional identity of paraeducator members;
- Informing paraeducators about standards, competencies, and professional development programs.
NEA local affiliates represent paraeducators’ interests in collective bargaining. NEA believes that all paraeducators must have opportunities for professional development. Some states and school districts, acknowledging the importance of professional development for all, have built training into their standards for paraeducators.
In addition to professional development, paraeducators need formal job descriptions that accurately describe their work. The job description should state qualifications, duties of the job, and clarify who is responsible for certain tasks. It also may include information on working conditions, equipment used, knowledge and skills, and relationships with other positions and employees.
NEA recommends the use of results-oriented job descriptions, which describe paraeducator tasks and results. NEA has published Results-Oriented Job Descriptions: How Paraeducators Help Students Achieve, which describes the development process and provides examples of paraeducator job descriptions.
There are other issues affecting paraeducators that should be considered in collective bargaining. Questions involving these issues must be considered carefully before collective bargaining sessions take place. The section below, "Paraeducator Issues to Consider for Collective Bargaining," presents a partial list of these issues.
Paraeducator Issues to Consider for Collective Bargaining
Seniority, Experience, and Prior Training
- How will seniority and/or experience be defined and applied when determining job placement and layoffs?
- How will previous training and experience be recognized in meeting NCLB requirements and qualifications?
- What are the entry level requirements?
- What courses can be taken for job placement or salary credit that relate directly to one’s job description?
- Do job descriptions accurately reflect paraeducator skills, knowledge, roles, and responsibilities?
- Is the evaluation assessment process related to the job description? If so, how?
- Does the job description include suggestions or recommendations for ongoing professional development?
- How will credentials and training be recognized on the salary schedule?
- How will levels of experience be addressed on the salary schedule?
- How will prior job experience(s) be recognized on the salary schedule?
- What are the criteria for reimbursement of professional development hours, training program certificates, degree attainment, CEUs, etc.?
- How will compensation for professional development be disbursed (e.g., hourly salary increase, yearly stipend, step-salary schedule, etc.)?
- How will types of leave be addressed (e.g., medical, maternity, personal, professional, etc.)?
- How will types of benefits be discussed (e.g., medical, disability , accident, association, etc.)?
- Will there be on-the-job training time?
- How will time be built into the daily schedule for paraeducator/teacher planning?
- How will time before and after regularly scheduled work be compensated?
- Will professional development time be provided during the school year?
- Will release time be granted for internal and external professional development programs?
- Will the paraeducator receive regular work pay while attending programs?
- Will the local school district provide substitute coverage?
- Who will conduct the evaluation?
- What evaluation method or instrument will be used?
- Will evaluation be linked to local and state standards or competencies, job description, and professional development plan?