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What is a Paraprofessional Teacher? - Definition & Role

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  • 0:02 What Is a Paraprofessional?
  • 0:53 Who Do Paraprofessionals Help?
  • 1:39 What Do Paraprofessionals Do?
  • 2:59 Becoming a Paraprofessional
  • 3:27 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Lesley King

Lesley has taught ESOL for many years, holds a master's degree in curriculum and instruction, and a doctorate degree in Instructional Leadership.

In this lesson, you'll review a clearly defined explanation of what it means to be a paraprofessional in the classroom. You'll also review the roles and expectations of a paraprofessional teacher who works closely with students with special needs.

What is a Paraprofessional?

The prefix para is Greek for 'alongside another.' You may have heard this prefix used with words such as parallel, paralegal, or even paragraph. But, what about the word paraprofessional teacher? This word is most commonly used in the field of education, referring to an individual who works closely with a certified classroom teacher to provide additional assistance to students.

Paraprofessionals usually adhere to the same schedule as teachers, though their duties and responsibilities focus specifically on providing learning support, generally to students with special needs. Keep in mind that people in the field often shorten the word to 'para' or refer to these professionals as 'educational paraprofessionals' and sometimes 'learning aides.'

Who Do Paraprofessionals Help?

Paraprofessionals mostly work with students who have disabilities, also sometimes referred to as special needs learners. A special needs learner usually has a learning disability that requires an outlined plan of how they should be taught and supported in the classroom. Some who fall into this category may have disabilities related to autism, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or behavioral issues.

Others who require a paraprofessional may have a physical handicap, such as being hearing impaired, vision impaired, or in a wheelchair. In any case, the paraprofessional works closely with the student's case manager, the designated, certified professional who ensures that students are receiving proper accommodations.

Paraprofessionals generally provide learning support to students with special needs.
student aide

What Do Paraprofessionals Do?

Paraprofessionals are important for many different reasons. They support students in a variety of ways, and they provide help to teachers in the classroom. They may also collaborate with parents and case managers to ensure students are receiving the support they need to succeed.

Here are some examples of how paraprofessionals provide support to students in the classroom:

  • They may encourage positive behavior by redirecting off-task behavior.
  • They might push wheelchair-bound students from class to class.
  • They may provide students with helpful strategies for organizing work.
  • They may chaperone off-campus events for autistic students who may wander or have trouble socializing.

Now, let's look at some examples of ways paraprofessionals support teachers in the classroom:

  • They may ensure that a hearing-impaired student sits in close proximity to the teacher.
  • Paraprofessionals may give the teacher tips for redirecting behavior based on a student's behavioral plan.
  • They might ensure that visually-impaired students sit close enough to the board.
  • They may explain when a negative behavior is a manifestation of disabilities.

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