Ensuring Appropriate Training and Supervision
NEA believes that paraeducators play an increasingly critical role in improving student achievement by supporting and assisting certificated/licensed educators in both instructional and other direct services.
Further, NEA believes that all paraeducators, not just special education paraeducators, should be appropriately trained and supervised.
Properly trained paraeducators play an important role in reinforcing and enhancing a teacher’s effectiveness in the classroom. In preparing for their professional roles and responsibilities, paraeducators should have sufficient preparation and training.
Preparing to Become a Paraeducator
NEA recommends that all paraeducators be given the chance to acquire the basic competencies, skills, and knowledge necessary for their positions. Competencies are identified skills and/or knowledge that an individual must have in order to perform a specific job. Core competencies are those knowledge and skills that all paraeducators should have. Examples include:
- Knowledge of roles and responsibilities
- Communication skills
- Behavior management skills
- Knowledge of growth and development
- An understanding of legal and ethical issues
- Instructional strategies
- An understanding of diversity and equity issues
In addition to core competencies, there are specialized competencies for specific job responsibilities. Specialized competencies might include skills and knowledge in:
- Early childhood/intervention
- Students with disabilities
- English as a second language
- Transition programs
- Health and safety
- Physical therapy (for students with disabilities)
- Occupational therapy (for students with disabilities)
Some paraeducators may need to meet specific preparation requirements. IDEA 2004 states that personnel standards for paraeducators who provide services to children with disabilities must be in accordance with state law, regulations, or written policy (see "Being Aware of Laws and Regulations Affecting Paraeducators"). In addition, paraeducators who are covered under NCLB provision requirements for highly qualified paraprofessionals should make sure that they have appropriate training as determined by the state.
Becoming Credentialed— Registration, Certification, and Licensing
Depending on the position, there may be state and/or local requirements that paraeducators must meet before they can practice. These requirements are called credentials. The most common credentials that paraeducators may need are:
- Registration: Paraeducators file their names, addresses, and qualifications with a government agency before beginning to work. Paying a fee or posting a bond may be required.
- Certification: Paraeducators who meet a state’s predetermined standards have the right to use an occupation title (right to title). Without certification, paraeducators can perform the occupational duties but may not use the occupation title.
- Licensing: Under these regulations, it is illegal for paraeducators to work without meeting state or federal standards.
Requirements typically vary from state to state, and the terms "registration," "certification," "licensing," and "training program completion" may have different connotations from state to state.
NEA was a member of the Education and Training Voluntary Partnership that developed standards for paraeducators. The document, Skill Standards for Frontline Workers in Education and Training— Paraprofessionals, Paraeducators, Teacher Assistants, Child Care Workers— Working in General Education, Special Education, Early Childhood Care and Education (PDF, 397kb, 96pgs) may be downloaded from the Web.
Completing Formal Training
In addition to registration, certification, and licensing, paraeducators may be able to complete a training program—an entry-level program of structured learning—that satisfies requirements for specific competencies. Some technical colleges or community colleges offer programs of study for paraeducators that lead to a diploma or associate’s degree. Many such programs allow credit for appropriate related work experience.
Diploma programs can usually be completed within one year if the student is enrolled on a full-time basis. Classes that might be offered in such programs include:
- Managing classroom behavior
- Technology in the classroom
- Child and adolescent development
- Overview of special education
Associate’s degree programs can usually be completed within two years if the student is enrolled on a full-time basis. Many of these programs focus on preparing individuals for careers as paraeducators in early childhood education. Some programs also provide the foundation for further study at a four-year college.
The section below, Selected Paraeducator Preparation Programs, provides examples of formal training programs. Although these examples are by no means exhaustive, they may be helpful to state or local Associations and school districts that are involved in organizing programs. Paraeducators should check with their state to determine the availability of programs in their area.
Orienting Paraeducators to Their Jobs— School District Preservice Training
In addition to making sure that any applicable requirements set forth in NCLB are met, school districts will want to ensure that paraeducators are qualified for their positions. Prior to beginning work with students, paraeducators should receive an orientation. Such preservice training should include information about job responsibilities, district policies, and other relevant information. The section below, Preservice Orientation Training Topics, provides examples of topics that school districts might consider when planning orientation programs.
During the first two days at the job site, paraeducators should receive orientation training. At a minimum, they should be provided with the following:
- Introduction to building site policies
- Review of procedures and services
- Opportunity to observe and work alongside a mentor in the same position (job shadowing)
- Introduction to classroom curricula, rules, and Procedures
- School behavior management plan
- Specific student information
Deciding to Become a Teacher
For many individuals, being a paraeducator is their chosen career. However, the experience may lead some to a desire and determination to become a teacher. In fact, school systems increasingly are finding the ranks of paraeducators to be an excellent source from which to recruit teachers. In such cases, paraeducators may choose to participate in traditional teacher education programs or to pursue alternative pathways that lead to teacher certification.
In programs that do not involve school districts, paraeducators may take evening, weekend, and summer classes at a college or university to earn a bachelor’s degree, or they might opt for a teacher education program that leads to certification. Other programs involve a collaborative effort among a school district, the local Association or union, and a college or university. Some of these programs may allow paraeducators to use their current employment situation as a practicum, thereby gaining college credit for the work they perform. Check with your local/state Association regarding programs. It is important to note that IDEA 2004 provides some funding for alternative route special education teacher certification programs that serve qualifying paraeducators.
New paraeducator orientation prior to working with students should include:
- Paraeducator roles and responsibilities
- District overview
- District policies and procedures
- District discipline policy
- District educational jargon
- Safety and emergency procedures
- Employment or contract information
California: California State University, Long Beach. The university offers three programs for paraeducators.
(1) Paraeducator to Educator: A School-University Preservice Partnership Program
Goals: To recruit paraeducators from underrepresented populations and prepare them to teach students with disabilities at school district sites; to provide support to paraeducators that ensures their ability to remain in school; and to refine the relationships among the school districts, local community colleges, and the university. The program leads to a B.S. degree and eventual teaching credential.
Description: Under a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, this three-year program prepares selected paraeducators from selected school districts in Southern California to work with students with disabilities in regular and special education K—12 settings. Participants commit to teach for two years for every year funded.
(2) Paraeducator Partnership Project
Goals: Sixty paraeducators from the Long Beach Unified School District will receive tuition and support for preparation to teach students with disabilities in special education settings.
Description: Due to the success of the Paraeducator to Educator project (described above) another grant was written, also funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services. The four-year project assists paraeducators in attaining education and training through tuition coverage and support.
(3) Paraeducator Training Course
Goals: To provide training in a broad variety of subjects pertinent to working with students in school settings; to increase the knowledge and skills for paraeducators’ present positions; and to act as a stepping stone for those wanting to continue their education and become teachers.
Description: A three-unit, upper division level college course, utilizing curriculum developed by the National Resource Center for Paraprofessionals in Education and Related Services. Each course is tailored to meet the needs of the particular school district and is taught at district sites by faculty in the Department of Occupational Studies at California State University, Long Beach. Course topics include communication and problem solving, working as a member of an instructional team, the instructional process, human development, legislation, special education, working with families, appreciating diversity, and emergency procedures.
Cynthia Hutten-Eagle, Director
Paraeducator Training Program
Department of Occupational Studies
California State University, Long Beach
1250 Bellflower Boulevard
Long Beach, CA 90840-5601
Maine: Educational Technician Authorization System: Approved Study Maine Department of Education
Goal: To enable paraeducators (known as educational technicians or ed techs) to obtain training required to perform certain types of professional work in Maine schools.
Description: Approved study is defined as inservice training or other training, as long as it is documented, new learning and related to the educational technician’s job. Individual school districts may establish an educational technician’s authorization system to be chaired and run by educational technicians themselves. Although the educational technician authorization is required for all paraeducators, it does not guarantee employment, nor does it guarantee a specific level of compensation, benefits, or course reimbursements for those who are employed. These are subjects for collective bargaining.
MEA UniServ Director
35 Community Drive
Augusta, ME 04330
Voice: 800-452-8709, ext. 337
Nebraska: Project PARA: Training Resources for Paraeducators University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Teachers College
Goals: To provide school-based preservice training programs for special education paraeducator personnel and to develop model procedures and materials to support school programs in providing systematic school-based preservice training.
Description: The program provides essential and accessible training for paraeducators through self-study focusing on preservice, inservice, and on-the-job training. Eight topic units are offered, including roles and responsibilities of paraeducators; developing instructional skills; observing and recording student performance; and effective communication with students, teachers, and other professionals. Communication via Internet is an integral part of the program. Two instructional videotapes for training paraeducators and supervisors are available for sale and may be ordered through the program contacts.
New Mexico: Teacher Education Program College of Santa Fe
Goals: To provide an opportunity for teaching assistants to obtain a B.A. in elementary or secondary education. Students are supervised in their place of employment. Applicants already holding a B.A. degree qualify for elementary or secondary standard licensure and elementary, secondary, or special education alternative licensure. Applicants already holding an M.A. degree qualify for school counseling licensure, community counseling licensure, or educational administrative licensure.
Description: The program meets New Mexico entry-level competencies for licensure in each area. Classes are offered at special evening and weekend reduced tuition rates and take place in late afternoons, on weekends, and during the day in the summer.
Rhode Island: Teacher Assistant Training Program Rhode Island Department of Education
Goals: To enable paraeducators to meet standards for teacher assistants employed in Rhode Island school districts. This training is required for all teacher assistants who have not been employed previously in that position in Rhode Island public schools; do not hold teacher assistant certification in another state; do not hold a B.A. or associate degree; and have not completed training consistent with the teacher assistant program standards. Ongoing professional development is a condition of continued employment for teacher assistants in Rhode Island.
Description: Specific training programs for teacher assistants offered by a school district or other agency must be approved by the state department of education and must provide documentation or equivalent evidence that individuals who complete the program meet specific standards and indicators set forth by the department. The standards include professionalism in communication and collaboration with colleagues, families, and related agencies; support of teachers; support of a positive learning environment; and knowledge of health, safety, and emergency procedures.
Rhode Island Department of Education
Office of Teacher Preparation, Certification, and Professional Development
255 Westminster Street
Providence, RI 02903
Voice: 401-222-4600, ext. 2252
http://www.ridoe.net/ and http://www.ritap.org/