Inside: Before deciding if you want your child to have an aide or paraprofessional, understand what one is and what they might do for your child.

Many parents ask me how to get an aide or para added to their IEP. But, what is a paraprofessional? You should know exactly what a paraprofessional is, their duties and qualifications, before you ask for one.

Note: If you are wondering How to Get a 1:1 Aide/Para added to your child’s IEP, that’s a different post.

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a school paraprofessional working with students
It’s important for parents to understand what is a paraprofessional, before asking for one on the IEP.

So, what’s a paraprofessional? (often referred to as aides or paras, for short)

What is a Paraprofessional?

A paraprofessional, also known as a paraeducator, instructional assistant, or teacher’s aide, is an educational worker who assists teachers and other school staff in a variety of roles, primarily in supporting the academic and behavioral needs of students.

ESSA or Every Student Succeeds Act, refers to them as paraprofessionals.

The specific duties and responsibilities of a paraprofessional may vary depending on the needs of the school and students they work with, but they typically include tasks such as:

  • Providing one-on-one or small group academic support to students
  • Assisting in classroom management and behavior support
  • Providing additional support to students with disabilities or special needs
  • Assisting with lesson planning, grading, and record-keeping
  • Supporting students during lunch, recess, or other school activities
  • Providing support during field trips or other off-campus activities

Paraprofessionals may work in a variety of educational settings, including public and private schools, preschools, and adult education programs. They may work under the direction and supervision of classroom teachers, special education teachers, or other school staff.

The qualifications and requirements for becoming a paraprofessional may vary depending on the state and school district, but typically include a high school diploma or equivalent and completion of a training program or certification.

small group of kids at school
An aide may be 1:1 or work with a small group.

What are the requirements to be a paraprofessional?

It’s important to note the IDEA does not define paraprofessionals. They have left that up to the states.

The requirements to be a paraprofessional may vary depending on the state and school district, but in general, there are a few qualifications and certifications that may be required.

The requirements to be a paraeducator typically include:

  1. Education: Most paraprofessional positions require a high school diploma or equivalent. Some positions may require additional education or training, such as completion of a two-year associate’s degree or a specific training program.
  2. Certification: Some states or school districts may require paraprofessionals to be certified or licensed. Certification may require completion of a specific training program or passing an exam.
  3. Experience: Some paraprofessional positions may require previous experience working with children or in an educational setting.
  4. Background check: All paraprofessionals must pass a background check, which may include a criminal history check, fingerprinting, and a child abuse clearance.
  5. Other requirements: Some paraprofessional positions may require additional qualifications, such as first aid or CPR certification, fluency in a second language, or specific skills such as proficiency with technology or data management.

It’s important to note that the specific qualifications and requirements for paraprofessional positions may vary depending on the school district and state, so check with your local school district for more information on their specific requirements.

student with their para
A paraprofessional often will reteach and practice content with a child.

Special Education Paraprofessional

Despite everyone’s best efforts, I feel like schools and parents really drop the ball after the 1:1 aide decision has been made. Often, a team decides that a child will get a para, adds it to the IEP in vague terms, and that’s it.

Then, a few weeks or months down the road, expectations are not met and everyone’s frustrated with everyone. If you have vague, undefined terms in your IEP, you’re going to get vague, undefined supports and results.

aide on an iep
Get your aide’s duties clearly defined on your IEP.

Special Education Para/Aide Definition

A special education paraprofessional is a type of paraprofessional who works specifically with students with disabilities or special needs.

They provide support to special education teachers and other school staff in helping students with disabilities to succeed academically and socially.

Special education paraprofessionals may work in a variety of settings, including public and private schools, preschools, and adult education programs.

They may work with students one-on-one or in small groups, providing additional academic support, behavior management, and social skills instruction.

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The specific duties and responsibilities of a special education paraprofessional may vary depending on the individual needs of the students they work with, but they typically include tasks such as:

  • Providing one-on-one or small group academic support to students with disabilities
  • Assisting in behavior management and providing support to students with challenging behaviors
  • Providing additional support during special education classes or related services, such as speech therapy or occupational therapy
  • Providing support during transitions between classes or activities
  • Assisting with the use of specialized equipment or technology, such as hearing aids or communication devices
  • Providing support during extracurricular activities or field trips

Special education paraprofessionals may work under the direction and supervision of special education teachers or other school staff.

The qualifications and requirements for becoming a special education paraprofessional may vary depending on the state and school district, but typically include a high school diploma or equivalent, completion of a training program, and passing a background check.

Some states or school districts may also require certification or licensure for special education paraprofessionals.

The mantra I repeat 800x a day: Write it down. The school is only legally obligated to provide what is listed in the IEP.

Once a school district has hired the paraprofessional for your child, unless specific requirements are outlined in the IEP, they have met their responsibilities.

To avoid unrealistic expectations, or to bring everyone on the same page, you have to bring everyone on the same page-literally.

That page needs to be in the IEP, or no one has any recourse.

Get it in the IEP. All of it.

Special Education Paraprofessional Duties

What exactly does a paraprofessional do?

Remember the I in IEP. It has to be specific to your child.

You can also ask your team to provide the job description that they use when they hire Special Education Paras. Or, ask the outside agency if they contract out.

Some examples of what you want included:

  • How the aide will spend their day with your child.
  • The required behavior supports for your child.
  • What you expect as far as qualifications and experience.
  • Any personal care duties needed.
  • What progress monitoring or reporting the parent and the teacher will receive from the aide.
  • Defined specific hours.
  • What happens if there is sickness, call-outs, substitutes, district unable to hire someone.
  • What will happen if a substitute is needed, or if a sub cannot be found for a particular day?
  • Who will be with your child while the 1:1 is on lunch and breaks (particularly for kids with eloping and other behaviors)?
  • What kind of data is this person going to collect and how often? How will the success of the 1:1 be measured?
  • How close will the 1:1 remain to the child, particularly for lunch, gym, playground (more social settings)?
  • What needs your child has that may require specific characteristics–such as difficulty with transitions.
  • Duties, responsibilities, supports, all of it!

As a parent, work with the teacher to make sure you share the same vision of what this aide is going to do all day, and write it in the IEP.

Paraprofessional Pay Rates

I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about pay rates for paraprofessionals. They’re low. Very low. Sometimes as low as minimum wage, depending on your region.

And, low pay often means high turnover.

Mind you, there are many pros to being a paraprofessional. Especially if you like working with children. And, if you have kids in school yourself, the hours are very compatible for working parents.

But low pay often means having trouble filling positions. These school staff shortages are affecting everyone.

If it is affecting your child and your IEP, I have more in that link.

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