What is a Paraprofessional?: The Role of Teaching Assistant in Special Needs Education

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A paraprofessional is a person who is properly trained to support a teacher, often by helping students with disabilities. The paraprofessional job includes working with a student one-on-one in the regular or special needs classroom, or working with a group of students. The job may also include supporting the classroom teacher with any clerical needs. A school paraprofessional may also be called a teaching assistant, a instructional assistant, teacher aide, or a program assistant.

The educational paraprofessional may play many different roles during school. A teaching assistant might be assigned to more than one child with disabilities, or with groups of students in various classrooms. She may be responsible for supporting single student’s academics, behavior, physical care, and social progress throughout the school day. The school paraprofessional has really become a very important job in the special education of today’s children.

The Educational Paraprofessional – Job Settings

Teacher with Student
The Role of Teaching Assistant in Special Needs Education. Image by foundationeducation.edu.au

When a person is hired as an educational paraprofessional, she may be required to work in one or more different areas of the school. There are many different types of classrooms that a teaching assistant could be assigned to. For example, the teacher’s aide might be expected to work with one student in a regular (inclusive) classroom.

In an inclusive classroom setting, the child with disabilities might need help finding a work partner, getting along with peers socially, or with physical tasks such as writing and expressing ideas and needs. The student with disabilities may also need help with behavioral issues.

Education For Learners With Special Needs. Image by pinterest.com

The school paraprofessional may also be assigned to a resource room or a special needs classroom. Throughout the day, students who need extra support may spend a small amount of time in this room to work on a specific area, such as speech, sensory processing, or reading.

In the upper grades or high school, an educational paraprofessional may be required to work with a student with disabilities to prepare him for independent living and job skills, and perhaps to learn about the opportunities in vocational training programs.

The Paraprofessional Job Description

The role of the paraprofessional in special education has become a very important and complex one. Image by verywellhealth.com

The school teaching assistant will be required to take on a number of duties in a school in order to support a student or students with special needs. It is important that a newly hired paraprofessional become familiar with what she is expected to do during the school year. As stated above, a teacher aide may be required to support children academically, socially, and behaviorally, and help the classroom teacher with materials and preparation.

Academic support may include helping a student with writing, math, reading, vocabulary, or pre-teaching new concepts to prepare the student for the next academic unit. Social tasks might entail supporting the student during recess, helping her find a partner in the classroom, or working on conversation skills. Behavior tasks could be to diffuse a tantrum, providing sensory support, and setting up a reward system for good behavior.

Special Needs Teacher Jumbo
Teaching Assistant in Special Needs Education. Image by foundationeducation.edu.au


Other assignments for the educational paraprofessional may include playground or bus duties, creating or building a social story, communication board, duplicating learning materials in larger print or on the computer, or organizational tool for a student with disabilities. The classroom assistant might be asked to work with parents. Finally, the paraprofessional may be in charge of ensuring the student’s personal care such as tying a shoe, washing hands, or dressing for outdoor recess.

The role of the paraprofessional in special education has become a very important and complex one. The laws that govern special education have become more demanding, as students with disabilities are expected to be as integrated as possible into the mainstream classroom, and must be provided with all the same educational opportunities as their peers. Supporting students who need help is a challenging but rewarding job that is now in higher demand than ever before.


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