Paraprofessionals: As the ‘Backbones’ of the Classroom, They Get Low Pay, Little Support (2023)

Read the original article posted to Education Week by Madeline Will.

Paraprofessionals are known as the backbones of the classroom for their work supporting student learning and well-being. But they report feeling underpaid and overworked—a perennial issue that’s only getting more dire as inflation soars and schools struggle to fully staff classrooms.

Paraprofessionals, or paraeducators, are typically hourly workers who are tapped to support students with disabilities, supervise individual or small-group work, help with behavior management, and handle setting up and cleaning up classrooms. A new nationally representative survey, conducted by the EdWeek Research Center in May, shows that these staffers are, on the whole, satisfied with their jobs and feel like they’re making a difference in student learning. They don’t want to quit, but low wages may drive some out of the classroom.

“For as hard as we work, we do deserve a whole lot more,” said Becky Medina, a paraprofessional at Pascual LeDoux Academy, a preschool in Denver that’s part of the public school system there. For $15.87 an hour, she changes diapers, helps potty train, dries tears, calms children down, supervises lunch and nap time, and assists with teaching small groups. “If we didn’t love the kids as much as we do, I don’t know how many of us would stay.”

Paraprofessionals say the job has become more demanding in recent years, as school leaders rely on them to help cover staffing shortages that have been exacerbated by the pandemic. And as large shares of teacherswarn in surveysthat they’re likely to leave the classroom, district leadersare increasingly looking toparaprofessionals as a potential pool for future teachers. Nationally, the number of paraprofessionalshas more than doubledover the past three decades—in 2018, there were about 825,000 paraeducators, compared to 3.2 million teachers.

But that pool may be drying up, too. More than a quarter of paraprofessionals say they’re likely to leave their job within the next year and go into a field outside of K-12, according to the survey sample of 3,481 paraprofessionals, classroom assistants, and school teaching assistants. Seventy-one percent of those paraprofessionals who indicated that they’re likely to leave said pay was a major reason.

A third said they were likely to leave because of their school or district’s approach to student discipline. Educators across the board have reported thatstudent behavior has worsenedsince the start of the pandemic, perhaps because of the trauma and turbulence of the past two years.

“I know a lot of aides are quitting because they can get paid more at a grocery store and not have to deal with the behaviors that we’re dealing with,” said Nat Legg, a kindergarten instructional assistant who asked for Education Week not to share her location due to privacy concerns. Legg makes $11.52 an hour: “It’s not sustainable.”

Employers across the country and across industries have raised hourly wages to attract workers in a competitive job market. Some unions representing paraprofessionals have said schools should follow suit.

“You go to McDonald’s, you go to Burger King, and they’re offering $18 an hour,” said Bernie Jiron, the president of the Denver Federation for Paraprofessionals and Nutrition Service Employees. “We’re an education institution, and we’re offering $15.87.”

Paraprofessionals in Denverstaged a rally last month, calling on the school district to bump up their pay to $20 an hour.

“Denver Public Schools is confident that we are at or above market levels for paraprofessional compensation when compared to school districts in the state of Colorado,” said Edwin Hudson, the chief of talent for the district, in a statement provided to Education Week. “We totally understand the contributions paraprofessionals make every day in classrooms, and we are looking forward with optimism to our continued discussions during bargaining.”

Meanwhile, in Minneapolis, teachers and education support professionals went on strike for 14 school days this spring. Paraprofessionals’ starting pay in the district is about $24,000 a year, and their union pushed for that to increase to $35,000. With the new contract, a “significant number” of full-time education support professionals will have the opportunity to earn that amount, the union says. Also, all paraprofessionals will receive a one-time $6,000 bonus, split evenly over the next two years, and paraprofessionals who have a decade or more experience will receive an additional $1,000 bonus.

Paraprofessionals “are the backbone of our schools and deserve a living wage,” the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers and Educational Support Professionals saidin a summary of the agreement. “These significant improvements will allow [education support professionals] to stay at our schools and fill staff vacancies.”

Some paraprofessionals rely on government support

Nationally, paraprofessionals say they work an average of 35 hours a week in schools and make about $19 an hour, according to the EdWeek Research Center survey. A third say they work two or more jobs—with the additional jobs typically outside of education.

More than a quarter of paraprofessionals say they can’t afford to live in the community where they work, and small but significant shares of these workers say they’ve had to rely on government or community assistance because their salaries weren’t enough to support themselves or their families.

About a quarter of paraprofessionals say their child or children qualified for free or reduced-price meals at school, 19 percent have visited a food pantry, 18 percent have participated in Medicaid, 16 percent have received food stamps, and 14 percent have received emergency assistance with utility bills and/or rent.

Research shows that about three-quarters of paraprofessionals don’t have a bachelor’s degree, which is one reason why school districts pay them so much less than teachers, said Amaya Garcia, the deputy director of preK-12 education at the left-leaning think tank New America.

But paraprofessionals’ responsibilities and skills vary so widely, she said. For example, some are bilingualand can provide dual-language instruction, a highly sought-after skill in many communities. Others focus mainly on helping students with their basic needs.

“When you have that level of unevenness across the profession, it makes it even harder to think—how do we pay them, how do we develop them, how do we help them grow?” Garcia said.

She added: “I think that paraeducators, for the most part, are not a policy conversation and are fairly marginalized within schools. There’s not a lot of understanding about what they do and the ways they support students among policymakers.”

About a fifth of paraprofessionals said they don’t feel respected or seen as a professional by the general public, and 22 percent said they don’t feel respected by educators at their school, according to the EdWeek survey.

“I kind of feel like we are looked down upon,” said Angela Alfaro, a paraprofessional at Pascual LeDoux Academy in Denver. “We do most of the—I don’t want to call it the dirty work, but it’s kind of the dirty work: the cleaning, the picking up after the kids, the potty training.”

And some paraprofessionals say that while their work is crucial to school operations, it often goes unnoticed. Aracelis Hogan, a veteran elementary paraprofessional in Ohio, said teachers are generally respectful of paraprofessionals, since the two groups work so closely together. But of her school’s administrators, she said: “If I had them sitting in front of me and asked them to name 10 things I’ve done in the last few weeks, they could not tell you.”

Paraprofessionals also lack dedicated training

One way to show paraprofessionals they’re valued as professionals? Offer them professional learning, New America’s Garcia said. Yet the EdWeek survey found that 42 percent of paraprofessionals say they receive too little professional development for their jobs. Thirteen percent said they received no PD in the past year, and more than half said they received 10 hours or less of training.

Last fall, a team of researchers from Brown University and the University of Washingtonanalyzed the collective bargaining agreements and employment handbooks of the largest districts in the 10 most populated statesand found that in that sample, paraeducators receive fewer mentoring and leadership opportunities compared to teachers. Paraprofessionals also tend to receive formal observations less often and get less support for an unsatisfactory evaluation rating than teachers do. Instead of being put on a remediation plan or receiving coaching, paraeducators are more likely to receive punitive action, such as probation or dismissal.

Min Sun, an associate professor in education policy at the University of Washington and an author of the report, said more districts are starting to realize that supporting paraprofessionals can be one pathway toward diversifying the teaching profession. Paraprofessionals as a group are much more likely to be racially diverse than teachers.

However, going through the teacher certification process shouldn’t be the only form of professional growth for paraeducators, Sun said. Many paraprofessionals are happy where they are.

“Teaching has too much paperwork for me,” said Legg, the kindergarten instructional assistant. “I love the fact that I get to be so hands on and with the children, versus having to sit at a desk and teach material. I don’t see myself going back and getting the degree.”

Even so, Legg said she would like more professional development and support, so she can feel more confident with classroom management.

After all, paraprofessionals often work with students who have the most needs, said Jack Busbee, the associate director of education pathways and the paraeducator board at the Washington State Professional Educator Standards Board.

A few years ago, Washington became the first—and, so far, only—state in the country tocreate a paraeducator boardthat establishes requirements and policies for paraeducator professional development and advancement. School districts must provide 28 hours of training on paraeducator standards of practice and an additional 70 hours of professional development so that paraeducators can earn a general certificate. (If the state legislature doesn’t provide funds for this training, the mandate goes away.)

And paraeducators can choose to earn certificates in special education or working with English-language learners. They can also work toward an advanced paraeducator certificate so they can support specialized instruction, mentor other paraprofessionals, or, if they choose, act as a short-term emergency substitute teacher. (Pay bumps associated with these certificates are worked out on the local level, Busbee said.)

The goal is that these professional-development offerings will improve paraeducator retention in the state, Busbee said, adding that before the pandemic, about 70 percent of new paraeducators in the state persisted after one year—in comparison, more than 80 percent of new teachers continued to teach in the state after one year.

“For paraeducators to really be solidified in their roles, they need that training in order for them to assist the certified teacher in an effective way—not just doing taskwork, but actually doing cognitive work and being strategic in how to assist students in different arenas,” said Pamella Johnson, the chair of the paraeducator board who is an academic and behavioral intervention specialist in the Rochester, Wash., school district. “For me in my own personal experience, it gives me more of a leg to stand on when I go into the classroom.”

Why do paraprofessionals stay?

Despite the low pay and other challenges, 78 percent of paraprofessionals say they’re satisfied with their jobs, and most don’t plan on leaving any time soon. That’s in stark contrast to teachers—an EdWeek Research Center survey from January and February found thatjust about half of teachers are satisfied with their jobs.

Paraprofessionals say they like the flexible work schedule of the jobs, and nearly two-thirds point to the students as a reason for keeping them in the profession.

“Other than the pay, this is probably the best job I’ve ever had,” said Medina, the paraprofessional at the Denver preschool. “It’s just the love.”


Why do paraprofessionals get paid so little? ›

In conclusion, there are several reasons why paraprofessionals are paid so little, including their classification as low-skilled workers, limited budgets in public schools, and a lower demand for high salaries in the field of education.

Why are paraprofessionals leaving the profession? ›

Seventy-one percent of those paraprofessionals who indicated that they're likely to leave said pay was a major reason. A third said they were likely to leave because of their school or district's approach to student discipline.

How are paraprofessionals beneficial to a classroom? ›

A paraprofessional may work with students one-on-one or in small groups to reinforce learning. They may provide extra support during or after a teacher's lesson. They may also lead small group activities, allowing the teacher to support students in other ways.

What is top pay for paraprofessional? ›

Salary Ranges for Paraprofessional Teachers

The salaries of Paraprofessional Teachers in the US range from $10,002 to $95,700 , with a median salary of $19,776 .

What state pays paraprofessionals most? ›

Highest paying states for education paraprofessionals
RankStateHourly Rate
3New York$17.03
6 more rows

What is the next step after being a paraprofessional? ›

If you've already taken courses to be a paraprofessional, you may need only a couple more years of study to become a licensed teacher. You may have to start at the beginning if you've completed no college work at this point in your career, although some colleges grant course credit for relevant experience.

What is the top reason teachers quit? ›

Beyond compensation, these educators also feel overworked and undervalued. Nearly 75 percent of respondents who cite expectations as a top reason they plan to leave say they have too much work to do each day and that there aren't enough teachers to carry the workload.

Why teachers are quitting 2023? ›

Clip: 04/10/2023 | 17m 51s | Staffing shortages, burnout, funding cuts, and debates over the curriculum are adding to the pressures on America's educators. In her new book, bestselling author Alexandra Robbins followed three teachers to see how these issues are changing the way they work.

How do you deal with a difficult paraprofessional? ›

Strategies for Managing Conflict Between Paras
  1. Establish Clear Expectations. ...
  2. Encourage Open Communication. ...
  3. Model Positive Behavior. ...
  4. Encourage Collaboration. ...
  5. Listen Carefully. ...
  6. Provide Support. ...
  7. Get Admins Involved if Necessary. ...
  8. Be Aware.

Is paraprofessional derogatory? ›

In addition to negative feelings about the terms “nonprofessional” and “subprofessional,” research has indicated that some library support staff perceived the term “paraprofessional” to be demeaning as well.

What is the main goal for paraprofessionals? ›

The activities a paraprofessional assists with may include monitoring behavior, helping with academic accommodations and modifications, and facilitating social interaction. The goal of the paraprofessional's work is to enable the student to become independent.

Can paraprofessionals talk to parents? ›

Paraprofessionals and community liaison workers communicate with parents in both formal and informal situations. And custodians and maintenance workers meet and greet parents in the halls and on school grounds in the course of their workday.

What are the best practices for paraprofessionals? ›

Top Tips To Succeed as a Paraprofessional
  • Build Relationships as a ParaPro. We all know building strong relationships can make a big difference in a student's education. ...
  • Ask All the Questions! Ask questions without fear! ...
  • Share Ideas. ...
  • Constantly Communicate. ...
  • Flexibility is Key. ...
  • True Stories from ParaProfessionals.

What is the average salary for a Paraprofessional in PA? ›

How much does a Paraprofessional make in Pennsylvania? As of May 25, 2023, the average annual pay for a Paraprofessional in Pennsylvania is $26,439 a year. Just in case you need a simple salary calculator, that works out to be approximately $12.71 an hour. This is the equivalent of $508/week or $2,203/month.

What is the average pay for a Paraprofessional in Texas? ›

$21,985 is the 25th percentile. Salaries below this are outliers. $32,978 is the 75th percentile.

Do paraprofessionals get paid in the summer in NYC? ›


The NYCDOE will pay a stipend of $40.00 per week (up to six weeks or $240.00) to each eligible paraprofessional attending an approved college or university during the summer semester. Paraprofessionals who work for the NYCDOE during the summer are not eligible to participate in this program.

What is the value of paraprofessionals? ›

They provide instructional support to teachers and students, helping them understand and learn different subjects like math, science, English, and social studies. Paraprofessionals are a valuable part of the education process.

Where do Paraeducators get paid the most? ›

Highest paying cities for Paraprofessionals near United States
  • Brooklyn, NY. $21.29 per hour. 53 salaries reported.
  • Aurora, IL. $19.87 per hour. 38 salaries reported.
  • Queens, NY. $19.78 per hour. 35 salaries reported.
  • Bronx, NY. $19.31 per hour. 46 salaries reported.
  • St. Louis, MO. $19.30 per hour. ...
  • Show more nearby cities.
Jun 6, 2023

What do paraprofessionals wear? ›

The length of skirts, split skirts, and dresses must approach the knee, and allow one to walk, stoop, kneel and sit with modesty. Low cut clothing is not permitted. No cleavage should be visible. Clothing should fit appropriately and should not be too loose or too tight.

How long is ParaPro good for? ›

Your ParaPro scores demonstrate that you're knowledgeable in reading, writing and math and capable of assisting in classroom instructions. ParaPro scores are trusted and reliable, and they're valid for 10 years.

What's the difference between a para and a paraprofessional? ›

A paraprofessional may be referred to as a paraeducator, special education paraprofessional, teaching assistant, instructional assistant, or ed tech. Informally, they may be called a parapro or para.

Are Paraeducators and paraprofessionals the same? ›

Paraprofessionals, also known as paraeducators, play an important role in schools—especially for kids with disabilities—providing all kinds of support from instructional to behavioral to 1:1 support.

How do you know if you should quit teaching? ›

9 Signs Leaving Teaching is the Right Choice
  • Sunday Scaries. ...
  • Life Out of Balance. ...
  • Taking Stress Home. ...
  • Low-Self Esteem. ...
  • It's Not Meant to Be. ...
  • Leaving Teaching because the Spark is Gone.
  • Career Quicksand. ...
  • Leaving Teaching because you've become a Negative Nelly.

Can you just quit a teaching job? ›

For those quitting teaching mid-year, you will want to write a letter asking for release from your contract. However, writing this letter is not a guarantee that your request will be granted. In most cases, you will address this letter to the superintendent.

Why are so many public school teachers quitting? ›

A low salary, a lack of respect from parents and a lack of a work-life balance also were high on the list. The survey found that 1 in 5 teachers say they will likely leave the profession in the next three years, including 1 in 7 who say they will definitely leave.

Why are teachers declining? ›

The decline in the number of applications for teaching credentials may be tied to the expiration of state Covid flexibilities like waivers for both the California Basic Skills Test and the subject-matter competency requirement before teaching, said Cheryl Cotton, a deputy superintendent at the California Department of ...

Is teaching a stressful job? ›

Ultimately, many aspects of workplace stress stem from anxiety about being effective at work. Teachers, like many other professionals, want to be effective in their jobs and suffer from increased stress, anxiety, and depression when they know they aren't at their best or are not receiving needed support.

How many teachers quit within 5 years? ›

Up to 30% of new teachers are quitting their job within 5 years of teaching. 13% of teachers reported quitting their job due to not getting paid as much as they should have been paid.

Should a paraprofessional have a desk? ›

SPACE: Carve out a space for the paraprofessional in the classroom. Designate a desk or table for them and encourage them to make it their own. Some paraprofessionals move around to different classrooms throughout the day and could use a space to keep classroom materials.

What is the highest paraprofessional score? ›

The scoring range is 420-480, and each state sets its own passing score.

Is a paraprofessional test hard? ›

While the ParaPro test is not overly difficult, it includes some challenging questions. Be sure to do plenty of ParaPro test prep! You can start with our free paraprofessional practice test. Work through the questions carefully and then be sure to review the explanations in order to learn from your mistakes.

Why are they called paraprofessionals? ›

In the 1960s, several educators suggested the term “Para”, a Greek word meaning “alongside of”. The term “paraprofessional” recognized the functions that were being performed by “teacher aides”.

Would I be a good paraprofessional? ›

According to Insight, paraprofessionals must be good listeners and make the effort to understand what students are trying to communicate. They must be able to articulate information and instructions clearly and in terms that students can understand, which sometimes requires paraphrasing or interpreting information.

How do you manage a classroom aide? ›

Tips for working with classroom aides or paraprofessionals.
  1. Never forget they play an important role. Go out of your way to be kind to paras. ...
  2. Communicate constantly. ...
  3. Offer professional development. ...
  4. Listen to paras and insist that students do as well.
Jul 5, 2020

How do you manage Paraeducators? ›

Basics of Behavior Management for Paraeducators
  1. Develop good relationships with the students. ...
  2. Model respectful behavior. ...
  3. Stay calm and positive. ...
  4. Assist the teacher in providing structure, routine, and organization. ...
  5. Interrupt and redirect. ...
  6. Catch them being good.
Feb 13, 2019

How important are the roles of paraprofessionals in special education? ›

The special education paraprofessional assists the teacher in general daily classroom activities, help special needs students, and cares for their physical, emotional health and safety, affirming their abilities, and striving to promote dignity in all relationships.

How will you communicate with paraprofessionals in your classroom? ›

Strong Partnerships Need Strong Communication

Working with paraprofessionals is a topic that many teacher bloggers have written about from their own experience. Their advice is strikingly similar—be respectful, be direct, give clear directions, be polite.

What questions do they ask for a paraprofessional? ›

General questions
  • Tell me about yourself.
  • Why do you want to work for our school district?
  • What do you know about our special needs program?
  • How did you learn of this job position?
  • What qualifies you to work for our school?
  • What do you consider your strengths?
  • What is a weakness you're currently improving?
Mar 10, 2023

What are the ethical considerations for Paraeducators? ›

Paraeducators understand that their practice requires attention to the professional and ethical considerations such as confidentiality, scope and limits of their roles and skill level, and culturally responsive practices.

What makes a good para educator? ›

The best parapros allow students to develop independence, and encourage interaction with fellow students and the teacher. Instead of guiding the student to the answers, a truly great parapro knows how to remain present or step back while the student figures out the answer for him or herself.

What are the pros and cons of being a paraprofessional? ›

The pros of being a paraprofessional are on-the-job training and great benefits, while the cons are a lack of career growth and routine work.

What responsibilities might a paraprofessional have in a classroom? ›

Paraprofessional responsibilities include providing staff support in an educational or childcare environment. Paraprofessionals will work with children individually or in small groups by providing basic instruction on reading, writing, math, and other education related activities as assigned by teachers' directions.

How much does a paraprofessional get paid hourly in Pennsylvania? ›

How much does a Paraprofessional make in Pennsylvania? As of Jun 7, 2023, the average annual pay for a Paraprofessional in Pennsylvania is $26,439 a year. Just in case you need a simple salary calculator, that works out to be approximately $12.71 an hour. This is the equivalent of $508/week or $2,203/month.

What do paraprofessionals make in Massachusetts? ›

$26,819 is the 25th percentile. Salaries below this are outliers. $40,229 is the 75th percentile.

Is being a paraprofessional stressful? ›

Unlike teachers, paraprofessionals don't get planning or prep periods, so we're with students all day. The job can be mentally, emotionally, and physically draining.

How much do paraprofessionals get paid in New York? ›

$30,064 is the 25th percentile. Salaries below this are outliers. $57,943 is the 90th percentile. Salaries above this are outliers.

How much does a special education aide get paid in PA? ›

The average salary for a special education assistant in Pennsylvania is $23,500 per year. Special education assistant salaries in Pennsylvania can vary between $17,500 to $35,500 and depend on various factors, including skills, experience, employer, bonuses, tips, and more.

How much does a special education paraprofessional earn in Pennsylvania? ›

The average Special Education Paraprofessional salary in Pennsylvania is $31,134 as of May 25, 2023, but the range typically falls between $26,754 and $36,953.

How much does a school aide get paid in PA? ›

What is the average salary for a school aide in Pennsylvania? The average salary for a school aide in Pennsylvania is $20,000 per year. School aide salaries in Pennsylvania can vary between $15,500 to $34,500 and depend on various factors, including skills, experience, employer, bonuses, tips, and more.

Do you need a degree to be a paraprofessional in Massachusetts? ›

Not have received a prior bachelor's degree or its equivalent. Enroll in an undergraduate degree program (full-time or part-time) leading to teacher certification in a Massachusetts Public College. Be employed, for a minimum of two years, as a paraprofessional in a Massachusetts public school.

What is a livable wage in Massachusetts? ›

This wage amount, called the living wage, is recalculated every year and is currently set at $16.38.

How much does a para make in Boston Public Schools? ›

Paraprofessional Salary in Boston, MA $33,868 - ZipRecruiter.

Can paraprofessionals be left alone with students in NYC? ›

The paraprofessional is being asked by their teacher or school staff to do tasks they are not allowed to do. For example, paraprofessionals should not be left alone in a classroom without a teacher or work lunch duty.

How much does a para make in NYC per hour? ›

Average New York City Department of Education Paraprofessional daily pay in New York is approximately $150, which is 46% above the national average.


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