After spending 10 years in a middle school special education classroom, it’s easy to say that paras are the foundation to our entire education system. Without them, kids in classrooms would struggle to understand key content, groups in the special education setting would be too large and unmanageable, teachers would have even bigger difficulties with classroom management, and many kids wouldn’t be able to access their least restrictive environment. Paraeducators make education work. 

(From 10 Ways to Appreciate Paraeducators, 2019)

A special education paraprofessional or paraeducator, sometimes called a teacher’s aide or assistant, can be a real golden right-hand helper to the classroom teacher. Generally speaking, the para provides support to the teacher and especially to students with disabilities in the classroom who need modified instruction or assistance, in keeping with their Individualized Education Program (IEP). Many a student and teacher rely on the skills and presence of paraeducators at their side.

Quick-jump links to this page’s content


Typical Duties of a Paraprofessional

While duties of paraprofessionals vary from state to state, typical tasks for paras include:

  • modifying or adapting instruction for students with disabilities;
  • working with individual students or small groups of students to reinforce learning of material or skills introduced by the teacher;
  • providing one-on-one assistance to students with disabilities;
  • guiding independent study, enrichment work, and remedial work with students as set up and assigned by the teacher;
  • assisting students with self-care tasks (as necessary); and
  • record-keeping.

Want some details about a para’s duties? Have a look at the descriptions in Understanding the Paraprofessional’s Role in Schools, which describes paras’ activities focused on instruction, language, physical assistance, and behavior issues. You’ll also find summaries of their typical training and specialities, suggestions for working with your child’s paraprofessional, what challenges you may encounter, and a short list of FAQs.

Información en español | Paraprofesionales: Lo que necesita saber

Video | A Day in the Life of a Paraeducator
This 5-minute video comes from Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland. Hear from paraeducators in action and the educators who work with and value them!

Back to top

Legally Speaking

Under the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, federal legislation specified the credentials and educational qualifications that teachers and paraprofessionals needed to have at a minimum. States themselves had latitude to further define policies within the state. However, that part of the law was removed with the reauthorization of the law in 2015, now called ESSA for the Every Student Succeeds Act. ESSA rolled back all of the “highly qualified teacher” requirements established under NCLB.

Under ESSA, states now have sole authority to determine all teacher certification requirements including which teachers are qualified to deliver core content instruction (The Every Student Succeeds Act: “Highly Qualified Teacher” Requirements, 2016). States  establish the qualifications and required licensure/certification of personnel, including related services providers and paraprofessionals.  The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) echoes this state-level authority at §300.156, including that the state must ensure:

  • that personnel “are appropriately and adequately prepared and trained” (including that they “have the content knowledge and skills to serve children with disabilities”);
  • that related services personnel have not had “certification or licensure requirements waived on an emergency, temporary, or provisional basis”; and
  • that related services personnel “allow paraprofessionals and assistants who are appropriately trained and supervised…” (in keeping with the state’s policies and requirements) “to assist in the provision of special education and related services to children with disabilities.”

Clearly, in order to understand the role(s) of paraprofessionals in your state, it’s critical to know what standards and policies your state has established for this critical support for children and teachers alike.  Your state may even offer guidelines for paraprofessionals to follow or guidance for those who supervise and utilize paras in the classroom.To find out, here are a few suggestions:

  • Get in touch with the Parent Center for information and training for your state. Every state has at least one Parent Center. Yours is likely to know what state and/or standards are for paras. Find your Parent Center here, at CPIR, using our Locator page, at:
  • Visit your state or local district’s website to see if this information is posted there, perhaps as part of posting the state’s special education legislation and regulations.
  • Do an online search using such terms as the name of your state in combination with words such as “paraeducators” or “paraprofessionals.”

Back to top

Resources for Paraeducators

Project PARA.
Project PARA develops training materials for paraeducators and teachers who supervise them. The project provides web-based self-study programs that offer school districts resources to provide introductory training for paraeducators and/or the teachers who supervise them. These resources are typically offered free of charge to schools and teacher training programs. Participating schools provide an instructor or mentor who manages their own self-study participants. 

Ohio Partnership for Excellence in Paraprofessional Preparation (OPEPP)
While OPEPP directly works with districts in Ohio, it also offers a lot of professional development materials and online learning modules for paras and their supervisors. Examples include:

    • 10+ learning module units designed to improve the quality and consistency of training available to instructional paraprofessionals
      These materials can be explored by paraprofessionals directly, but might best be used to deliver facilitated training to teams of paraprofessionals and teachers.
    • Guidance and resources to support remote teaching and learning
      This toolkit has two main purposes: (1) to provide general guidance to educators for how paraprofessional services might be used in remote teaching and learning settings; and (2) to serve as a repository of resources for paraprofessionals and teachers in the facilitation of virtual instruction and support of students.

How ESSA Impacts Education Support Professionals | National Education Association (2020)
The law creates new opportunities for paras and other education support professionals to access professional development and influence funding for school programs.

Paraeducator Voice + Opportunity | National Education Association (2020)
The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) gives paraeducators a voice in key decision making and professional development opportunities at the federal, state, and local levels.

CEC’s Paraeducator Preparation Guidelines (2015)
The Council for Exceptional Children (CEC), in collaboration with the National Resource Center for Paraeducators (NRCP), developed and validated the Specialty Set of Knowledge and Skills for Paraeducators in Special Education, the essential knowledge and skills that paraeducators serving individuals with exceptionalities should possess.

United Federation of Teachers’ Paraprofessionals’ Rights and Responsibilities During Blended Learning (2020)

National Resource Center for Paraeducators. 
The NRC for Paras offers several training curricula for paraeducators (including for those working with students who have limited English proficiency and Guidelines for Paraeducator Roles, Supervision and Preparation). Quite unfortunately, these are out of date, having been published in the late 1990s. They are for sale and can be purchased from the website. They are also available separately and at no cost via ERIC. To offset this lack of current information,we’ve started this list with current resources, even if they are state-specific or produced otherwise.

Back to top

Resources for Teachers and Supervisors of Paraeducators

The 2 Sides of Improving Special Educator-Paraprofessional Collaboration (2019)
The growing shortage of special education personnel in schools means more work for the educators who stay, and special education teachers and paraeducators shoulder much of the responsibility. As a result, having strong teacher-paraprofessional relationships is more important than ever for meeting individual student needs. Here’s advice and experience from the field.

Ethical & Legal Issues Involving Paraeducator Employment, Supervision, & Training: What Administrators Need to Know (2017)

Classroom Partners: How Paraprofessionals Can Support All Students to Meet New Standards
Here’s an 8-page article providing advice for classroom teachers working with paraeducators. Oh, the importance of planning together, ongoing communication, and professional development for paras, not to mention on-point instructional tips for teachers!

How Do I Work Best with a Paraeducator? (2019)
This, from the National Education Association.

See also the Professional Development Learning Modules of the Ohio Partnership for Excellence in Paraprofessional Preparation, listed and linked above under Resources for Paraeducators. Many modules for paras are accompanied by similarly organized modules for administrators and classroom partners of paraprofessionals. Also offered is:

Back to top

Examples and Resources from Selected States

Recommended Core Competencies for Paraeducators | Example from Washington State

Paraprofessional FAQ | From the United Federation of Teachers and NY City’s DOE 2020-21
Hot dog! Up-to-the-moment guidance (however short), here’s the agreement established between the New York State Department of Education and the UFT.

Paraprofessional Handbook | Example from One District
While specific to Brock Independent School District in TX, here’s a 2020-21 handbook for paras (16 pages) that will give paras a decent summary of what they might expect in their own district.

Working with Paraprofessionals: A Resource for Educators of Students with Disabilities | Example from Texas (2018)
This 44-page document helps to define and distinguish the roles and responsibilities of the certified teacher from the paraprofessional and to open lines of communication at a local education agency (LEA) so that paraprofessionals are more effectively utilized in assisting students with disabilities access to and progress in the general curriculum.

Back to top

Updated 8/2023