Recruit and Retain: The Future of Education

Paraprofessional to Teacher

School systems are in need of teachers, and sometimes it's hard to find enough through the traditional academic channels. One group that some states are looking to: their paraprofessionals or instructional assistants. ‘Parapros’ and ‘IAs’ have a lot going for them: They’ve been involved with the teaching process in actual classrooms, often for years. They've supported students with challenging behaviors. In many cases, they have taught lessons to small groups of students; they may have even led their own reading group under teacher direction. What's more, they often resemble the student population -- racially, culturally, linguistically -- more than the classroom teacher does. Research says it matters what the racial mix looks like in schools. It matters that kids spend time learning from professionals who are like them. Paraprofessionals are part of the answer. They are often long-time community members with roots that go deep; this means they may bring continuity and stability places where it’s sorely needed.

What paraprofessionals don't usually have is a bachelor's degree, which is a minimum requirement for teaching and for entrance into many alternative programs. Many paraprofessionals want to make the career leap, though, and some states have formal programs in place to support them.

Washington State, for example, has an alternative teacher certification program for paraprofessionals who hold associate’s degrees ( They select from multiple in-state schools designated as ‘route 1’. These IAs will need to pass the basic skills exam at the onset. They can participate in mentored internship while meeting bachelor’s degree and certification requirements.

There’s activity at many levels from national to local. The federal government has handed out quite a bit of grant money. Options vary by locale. Many districts offer tuition assistance to some of their successful parapros. There can be multiple programs operating within a state, drawing from a common pool of money.

The requirements for program acceptance vary as does the amount of support one will get along the way. In many places, instructional assistants are now required to have the equivalent of an associate's degree, and are, with regard to academic credits, halfway there.

Paraprofessional Certification: Issues of Time and Money

Para-educators often have serious concerns about monetary risk: How can they sever their job ties? How can they take time away from earning a paycheck -- even a relatively small one -- while they complete their student teaching?

Fortunately, it's not always necessary. Sometimes districts nominate or recommend candidates for special programs. These districts can be very committed to working with their chosen candidates. In some locales, experiential requirements can be met in alternative ways.

The PLUS (Professional Licensure with Undergraduate Support) program has allowed principal-nominated Milwaukee paraprofessionals to complete the coursework needed for their degrees and do their student teaching on the job (

Candidates accepted into New York City’s bilingual personnel services program complete internships while drawing a paraprofessional salary and taking tuition-free courses at participating colleges (

Under the Texas Educational Aide Exemption, qualifying educational aides can receive teacher certification in shortage areas without completing traditional student teaching ( The program also includes monetary support. Students receive tuition waivers during the term of their award ($ext.TacPage?sl=R&app=9&p_dir=&p_rloc=&p_tloc=&p_ploc=&pg=1&p_tac=&ti=19&pt=1&ch=21&rl=1085). This program is limited to particular shortage areas. One is bilingual education – and there are many bilingual aides out there with much to offer!

Some colleges have taken the initiative in designing programs that allow para-educators to meet all their requirements while remaining on the job. Kansas has more than one. At Fort Hays State University, para-professionals complete their student teaching requirements across two semesters (earning 6 semester hours for each) while remaining employed (

Sometimes it is necessary to leave the workplace for a semester or so. There may still be a level of support available. The Illinois Grow Your Own (GYO) program provides a small stipend for the student teaching semester. The program can help in various ways, including forgivable loans and emergency support with childcare needs (

The Illinois pre-GYO program is for people who have been out of school a long time; these individuals can determine whether a teaching degree is a realistic goal, and if it is, receive academic support.

Additional Academic Supports

It’s not just in Illinois that stakeholders recognize there’s more involved than money. In many cases, it’s not just the degree that's lacking. The academic foundation may not be there. Often, though, the foundation can still be built.

Two professionals from the Alternate Route Teacher Certification program at Washington State University recently shared their insights ( They reported that the paraprofessionals enrolled in the WSU program had a lot to offer. It was they, not the traditional students, who already knew many of the teaching tricks and behaviors that they were now learning theory for. On the other hand, academics had been a hurdle for some. Some GPAs were low. Instructional assistants weren’t necessarily prepared to pass the pre-teaching academic assessment. Community college coursework and test prep, though, could go a long way.

California districts have also been tackling the question of what supports are most important. The California Classified School Employee Teacher Credentialing Program (CSEP) has awarded grants to a number of California local education agencies. Programs do not look identical in all parts of the state. The Ventura County Office of Education has provided information about its proposed program ( Participants would receive test prep in addition to up to $3,000 a year of support with tuition, books, and necessary expenses. They would participate in cohort meetings and advising. In order to be accepted into the program, a paraprofessional would need an associate’s degree or a couple of years of college (a minimum 48 credit hours). The post-graduate obligation: a year of teaching for each year of support. The Los Angeles Step up and Teach program can potentially offer a slightly higher allowance for annual tuition and books. Test prep is also part of the mix; the program provides an annual test prep allowance with multiple provider options.

Additional Information

The PAR²A Center has provided links to research about paraprofessional career ladder programs, including historic ones ( The Center has also posted general information for paraprofessionals who are considering furthering their education.