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What is a Paraprofessional?

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Certified Assistants Work in Many Fields

If you have school-aged children, you may have heard the word “paraprofessional.” This title is typically used to describe someone who assists the classroom teacher, but is more qualified than an aide. The role is common in special education classrooms, where extra hands are often needed to assist children with special needs, but paraprofessionals also work in general education classrooms. Fields such as law, engineering and health care use paraprofessionals, too, but they may have different titles. The paraprofessional’s distinction is that she has some training in the field and has met the necessary qualifications to become certified in that job. With the availability of online training today, you can become a paraprofessional by studying at your own pace, allowing you to blend study with family life.

Job Description

Whether she’s working in education, engineering or another field, a paraprofessional works under the supervision of the professional on the job. So, a teacher’s assistant is supervised by the classroom teacher. An engineering technician is supervised by the engineer on the project. A medical assistant might be supervised by a doctor or a nurse, depending on the task she’s doing. A legal paraprofessional may be a legal assistant or a paralegal and is supervised by a lawyer or a more experienced assistant or paralegal.

Education Requirements

Education is where paraprofessionals set themselves apart from aides, clerks or helpers. To become a paraprofessional, first you must attend classes at a medical assisting school or earn an associate’s degree from a community college. This training usually takes from one to two years, although engineering can take three years, depending on the level you’re seeking.

The second step toward becoming a paraprofessional is getting certified in the field. Each type of certification has different requirements, but they all usually involve meeting specific educational requirements and passing a test. Having certification tells an employer that you know how to do certain X, Y and Z tasks that are important in that job.

For example, to become a paraprofessional in a special education classroom, in addition to having an associate’s degree or two years of college coursework, most states also require you to pass a skills-based test that demonstrates your knowledge of working with children having different types of needs.

Sample median salaries* for paraprofessionals as of May 2016 include:

  • Teacher’s assistant, public school ‒ $26,140
  • Engineering technicians ‒ $62,330
  • Medical assistants ‒ $31,540
  • Legal assistants/paralegals ‒ $49,500

*Median salaries are at the midpoint in a list of salaries, with half earning a higher salary and half making a lower amount.

About the Industries

Paraprofessional are employed in many industries. Paraeducators work in public and private elementary, middle and high school classrooms. They may go to many classrooms throughout the day, helping individual students in each class, or they may stay with one special-needs student as he goes from his special-needs classroom to his general education classroom to the library and the gym.

Health care paraprofessionals work in doctors’ offices, clinics and hospitals. They may work directly with patients or in the back office, handling medical records or other skilled tasks.

Legal paraprofessionals work in law offices, but they may go to another site for research or to gather the information and materials a lawyer needs for a particular case.

Engineering technicians may work in an office or a lab, and they may also go to a jobsite to gather information or data.

Years of Experience

Since the paraprofessional role requires education beyond high school and certification, a paraprofessional typically begins his or her career without needing additional experience. Some jobs, such as medical assisting, require a practicum in which the paraprofessional works for a certain period of time in the job environment, learning from and supervised by an experienced professional.

Most first jobs are entry-level, and some are clearly labeled, such as “Engineering Technician I.” Specific steps are required to progress to each successive level. For example, New York City has Level I, Level II, Level III and Pre-Professional certification for teaching assistants. Each level requires course credits, teaching hours and a written test.

Job Growth Trend

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the rate of growth expected in a career field. BLS projects that between 2016 and 2026, the need for these occupations will grow as follows:

  • Medical assistants ‒ 29 percent
  • Paralegals and legal assistants ‒ 15 percent
  • Teaching assistants ‒ 8 percent

The growth projection for engineering technicians was not available.


Barbara Bean-Mellinger is a freelance writer who lives in the Washington, D.C. area who has written about careers and education for,, and more. Barbara holds a B.S. from the University of Pittsburgh and has won numerous awards for her writing.

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