Teaching Professions

Teaching is a demanding job that requires in-depth knowledge of subject content, age-specific pedagogy, and many varied skills such as patience, leadership, and creativity, just to name a few. If you are considering a career as a teacher, paraprofessional (teacher's aide), administrator, counselor, school nurse, or school Library Media Specialist, you may want to learn more about what the profession is all about. Click on any of the following links to learn more about each profession.

  • Classroom Teacher - Information on the different types of classroom teachers, including K-12, Special Education, and English as a Second Language

    • Preschool and Kindergarten
    • Preschool

      Preschool children learn mainly through play and interactive activities. Preschool teachers capitalize on children's play to further language and vocabulary development (using storytelling, rhyming games, and acting games), improve social skills (having the children work together to build a neighborhood in a sandbox), and introduce scientific and mathematical concepts (showing the children how to balance and count blocks when building a bridge or how to mix colors when painting). Thus, a less structured approach, including small-group lessons, one-on-one instruction, and learning through creative activities such as art, dance, and music, is typically used to teach preschool children.


      Play and hands-on teaching are also used in kindergarten classrooms, but academics begin to take priority at this age. Letter recognition, phonics, numbers, and awareness of nature and science are typically introduced at the preschool level. Lessons are taught primarily by kindergarten teachers.

    • Elementary Grades
    • What are considered "elementary" grades vary, depending on the state or local school district. Typically, elementary grades are considered grades 1-4 or 5, but may even include 6, 7, and 8 as well. Most elementary grades (or "elementary") school teachers instruct one class of children in several subjects. In some schools, two or more teachers work as a team and are jointly responsible for a group of students in at least one subject. In other schools, a teacher may teach several subjects — usually reading, english, mathematics, social studies, science and language arts — to one class or a teacher may teach one special subject — usually music, art, or physical education — to a number of classes. A small but growing number of teachers instruct multilevel classrooms, with students at several different learning levels.

      The role of an elementary teacher is to ensure that all students — regardless of race/ethnicity, sex, socioeconomic status, geography, or English proficiency — master reading and basic arithmetic, are progressing toward state standards, and are ready for the middle grades. Every teacher in these early grades needs the skills to teach reading, english, mathematics, social studies, science and language arts to most students. Elementary teachers are also charged with identifying and addressing student problems early, including physical and social problems that can prevent children from being ready to learn in school. The early grades are the best time to provide quality extra help and time to students because academic skills build on one another; if the foundation for learning is not laid early, students will fall progressively further behind.

      Elementary school teachers may perform some or all of the following duties:

      • Teach students using a systematic plan of lessons, discussions, audio-visual presentations, and field trips;
      • Assign and correct homework;
      • Prepare, administer, and correct tests;
      • Evaluate the progress of students and discuss results with students, parents, and school officials;
      • Identify children's individual learning needs;
      • Prepare and implement remedial programs for students requiring extra help;
      • Participate in staff meetings, educational conferences, and teacher training workshops; and
      • Supervise teachers' aides and student teachers.

    • Middle Grades (5-8)
    • The middle grades are typically considered grades 5-8, but may include 4th up to the 9th grade; what are considered to be "middle grades" vary depending on the school district. Some school districts separate students into elementary and high schools only, with K-7 or K-8 at one school, and 8 or 9-12 at another.

      The primary mission of middle grades (or "middle school") teachers is to prepare students for high school. Middle school teachers help students delve more deeply into subjects introduced in elementary school and expose them to more information about the world. Middle school teachers typically specialize in one or two broad areas, such as English (including reading and writing), mathematics, science, or social studies. They strive to ensure that students meet state standards in each of these core academic areas.

      Some children will need extra help at this age and stage. Middle grades teachers may have to intervene with students who effectively start dropping out of school and education several years before they are old enough to drop out officially.

      Middle grades teachers also help students and their parents make informed decisions about what courses to take to prepare for high school, postsecondary education and the workplace.

      Middle school teachers may perform some or all of the following duties:

      • Prepare subject material for presentation to students according to an approved curriculum;
      • Teach students using a systematic plan of lectures, discussions, audio-visual presentations, and laboratory, shop, and field studies;
      • Assign and correct homework;
      • Prepare, administer, and correct tests;
      • Evaluate progress, determine individual needs of students, and discuss results with parents and school officials;
      • Prepare and implement remedial programs for students requiring extra help;
      • Participate in staff meetings, educational conferences, and teacher training workshops;
      • Advise students on course selection; and
      • Supervise student teachers.

    • Secondary Grades (7-12)
    • Secondary (or "high school") teachers help students delve more deeply into, and expose students to more information about, subjects introduced in elementary and middle school. Secondary school teachers specialize in a specific subject, such as English, Spanish, mathematics, history, or biology. They also can teach subjects that are career or technical subject-oriented.

      High school teachers are charged with providing a solid education to students and supporting them in reaching the goal of a high school diploma. High school diplomas mean a significant difference in income and quality of life for the future citizens of our country. One of the many responsibilities of high school teachers is to communicate the importance of this major milestone and then help students reach it.

      At the high school stage, students perform at divergent academic levels and have diverse learning needs. Unfortunately, not all students arrive well prepared for secondary study. High school teachers may have to deal with students who are not ready to learn at the advanced level and who may need the kinds of intervention used in earlier grades. Helping these students often takes expertise, additional time, different teaching methods, and creative use of technology.

      Because the demands of the American workplace are changing, all students need the knowledge and skills that have historically been defined as "college prep." Students bound for college likewise need preparation and support beyond the traditional college-prep core - in this case, advanced academic courses taught by qualified teachers who can help them succeed on end-of-course tests as well as college admission and placement examinations.

      High school teachers may perform some or all of the following duties:

      • Prepare subject material for presentation to students according to an approved curriculum;
      • Teach students using a systematic plan of lectures, discussions, audio-visual presentations, and laboratory, shop and field studies;
      • Assign and correct homework;
      • Prepare, administer, and correct tests;
      • Evaluate progress, determine individual needs of students, and discuss results with parents and school officials;
      • Prepare and implement remedial programs for students requiring extra help;
      • Participate in staff meetings, educational conferences, and teacher training workshops;
      • Advise students on course selection as well as career and technical and personal matters; and
      • Supervise student teachers.

      Additional responsibilities of secondary school teachers may include career guidance and job placement as well as follow-ups with students after graduation.

    • Career and Technical
    • Vocational education teachers (also referred to as "career and technical" teachers) instruct and train students to work in a wide variety of fields, such as healthcare, business, auto repair, communications, and, increasingly, technology. They often teach courses that are in high demand by area employers, who may provide input into the curriculum and offer internships to students. Many career and technical teachers play an active role in building and overseeing these partnerships.

    • Special Education
    • Special education teachers work with children and youths who have a variety of disabilities. A small number of special education teachers work with students with mental retardation or autism, primarily teaching them life skills and basic literacy. However, the majority of special education teachers work with children with mild to moderate disabilities, using the general education curriculum or modifying it to meet the child's individual needs. Most special education teachers instruct students at the elementary, middle, and secondary school level, although some teachers work with infants and toddlers.

      The various types of disabilities that qualify individuals for special education programs include specific learning disabilities, speech or language impairments, mental retardation, emotional disturbance, multiple disabilities, hearing impairments, orthopedic impairments, visual impairments, autism, combined deafness and blindness, traumatic brain injury, and other health impairments. Students are classified under one of the categories, and special education teachers are prepared to work with specific groups. Early identification of a child with special needs is an important part of a special education teacher's job. Early intervention is essential in educating children with disabilities.

      Special education teachers use various techniques to promote learning. Depending on the disability, teaching methods can include individualized instruction, problem-solving assignments, and small-group work. When students need special accommodations in order to take a test, special education teachers see that appropriate ones are provided, such as having the questions read orally or lengthening the time allowed to take the test.

      Special education teachers help to develop an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for each special education student. The IEP sets personalized goals for each student and is tailored to the student's individual learning style and ability. The program includes a transition plan outlining specific steps to prepare special education students for middle school, high school or, in the case of older students, a job or postsecondary study. Teachers review the IEP with the student's parents, school administrators, and the student's general education teacher. Teachers work closely with parents to inform them of their child's progress and suggest techniques to promote learning at home.

      Special education teachers design and teach appropriate curricula, assign work geared toward each student's ability, and grade papers and homework assignments. They are involved in the students' behavioral and academic development, helping the students develop emotionally, feel comfortable in social situations, and be aware of socially acceptable behavior. Preparing special education students for daily life after graduation also is an important aspect of the job. Teachers provide students with career counseling or help them learn routine skills, such as balancing a checkbook.

      As schools become more inclusive, special education teachers and general education teachers are increasingly working together in general education classrooms. Special education teachers help general educators adapt curriculum materials and teaching techniques to meet the needs of students with disabilities. They coordinate the work of teachers, teacher assistants, and related personnel, such as therapists and social workers, to meet the requirements of inclusive special education programs. A large part of a special education teacher's job involves interacting with others. Special education teachers communicate frequently with parents, social workers, school psychologists, occupational and physical therapists, school administrators, and other teachers.

      Special education teachers work in a variety of settings. Some have their own classrooms and teach only special education students; others work as special education resource teachers and offer individualized help to students in general education classrooms; still others teach together with general education teachers in classes composed of both general and special education students. Some teachers work with special education students for several hours a day in a resource room, separate from their general education classroom. Considerably fewer special education teachers work in residential facilities or tutor students in homebound or hospital environments.

      Special education teachers who work with infants usually travel to the child's home to work with the child and his or her parents. Many of these infants have medical problems that slow or preclude normal development. Special education teachers show parents techniques and activities designed to stimulate the infant and encourage the growth of the child's skills. Toddlers usually receive their services at a preschool where special education teachers help them develop social, self-help, motor, language, and cognitive skills, often through the use of play.

      Technology is playing an increasingly important role in special education. Special education teachers often use specialized equipment such as computers with synthesized speech, interactive educational software programs, and audiotapes to assist children.

    • Bilingual Education and English as a Second Language (ESL)
    • English as a Second Language (ESL) teachers provide English language and life skills instruction to immigrants, international students, and other students whose first language is not English.

      Children who speak English as a second language may not understand what their teacher is explaining. They may have a tough time doing well in school and may even drop out at an early age.

      Bilingual education refers to the use of two languages as tools in classroom instruction. Bilingual teachers speak English primarily while also using native-language support to ensure that ESL students learn academic content. U.S. students in bilingual programs receive part of their instruction in English and part in a second language. Significant portions of their school day may be devoted to ESL instruction, in which each student receives intensive assistance in learning English.

      Two-way bilingual education — which teaches children who are learning English and those who are native English speakers, side-by-side — gives all students the opportunity to become proficient in two languages.

      The main objective of ESL instruction is to develop the second language proficiency of new immigrants and international students to the point where they can participate effectively in an English-speaking environment. Traditionally, ESL programs have been designed to improve the following skills:

      • listening comprehension,
      • reading comprehension,
      • pronunciation,
      • speech,
      • writing and composition, and
      • grammar and vocabulary.

      Beginning ESL courses generally focus on topics that help students begin to develop basic English proficiency.

      Intermediate and advanced level classes generally focus on improving fluency and correctness in English and providing transitional support for those wishing to go on to advanced educational opportunities.

      Class sizes may vary from one-on-one tutoring situations to large academic classes of 20 or more students.

      ESL teachers may need the following characteristics:

      • excellent communication skills;
      • imagination, energy, creativity, patience, enthusiasm, commitment and adaptability;
      • the ability to work well in a multicultural environment and demonstrate respect for other values and cultures;
      • the ability to create an environment in which students feel comfortable and will participate; and
      • the ability to make the class relevant to the needs and interests of a diverse group.

      ESL teachers should enjoy coordinating information in innovative ways to prepare teaching materials, supervising and evaluating student progress, and helping others.

    • K-12 areas
    • Some teachers may teach one special subject — usually music, art, reading, foreign languages, or physical education — to a number of classes at different age levels. Rather than specializing in a particular age range, such as middle school, these teachers typically receive state certification to teach Kindergarten through 12th grade.

  • School Leadership and Support - Information on non-classroom professions, including school administration and support services

    • Principals, Vice Principals, and Department Heads
    • Principals

      Principals set the academic tone of the school and hire, evaluate, and help improve the skills of teachers and other staff. Principals confer with staff to advise, explain, or answer procedural questions. They visit classrooms, observe teaching methods, review instructional objectives, and examine learning materials. They actively work with teachers to develop and maintain high curriculum standards, develop mission statements, and set performance goals and objectives.

      Principals must take an active role to ensure that students meet State and local academic standards. Many principals develop school/business partnerships and school-to-work transition programs for students. Increasingly, principals must be sensitive to the needs of the rising number of non-English speaking and culturally diverse students. Growing enrollments, which are leading to overcrowding at many existing schools, also are a cause for concern. When addressing problems of inadequate resources, administrators serve as advocates for the building of new schools or the repair of existing ones. During summer months, principals are responsible for planning for the upcoming year, overseeing summer school, participating in workshops for teachers and administrators, supervising building repairs and improvements, and working to be sure the school has adequate staff for the school year.

      Principals also meet and interact with other administrators, students, parents, and representatives of community organizations. Decision-making authority has increasingly shifted from school district central offices to individual schools. Thus, parents, teachers, and other members of the community play an important role in setting school policies and goals. Principals must pay attention to the concerns of these groups when making administrative decisions.

      Principals prepare budgets and reports on various subjects, including finances and attendance, and oversee the requisition and allocation of supplies. As school budgets become tighter, many principals have become more involved in public relations and fundraising to secure financial support for their schools from local businesses and the community.

      Schools continue to be involved with students' emotional welfare as well as their academic achievement. As a result, principals face responsibilities outside the academic realm. For example, in response to the growing numbers of dual-income and single parent families and teenage parents, schools have established before- and after-school childcare programs or family resource centers that offer social service programs.

      Assistant Principals

      Assistant principals aid the principal in the overall administration of the school. Some assistant principals hold this position for several years to prepare for advancement to principal jobs; others are career assistant principals. They are primarily responsible for scheduling student classes, ordering textbooks and supplies, and coordinating transportation, custodial, cafeteria, and other support services. They usually handle student discipline and attendance problems, social and recreational programs, and health and safety matters. They also may counsel students on personal, educational, or career and technical matters. With the advent of site-based management, assistant principals are playing a greater role in ensuring the academic success of students by helping to develop new curricula, evaluating teachers, and dealing with school-community relations — responsibilities previously assumed solely by the principal. The number of assistant principals that a school employs may vary depending on the number of students.

      Department Head

      In addition to regular teaching duties, department heads may:

      • attend meetings with the school principal;
      • participate in curriculum implementation/development activities;
      • order textbooks, instructional materials, equipment, and supplies for the department;
      • participate in professional development activities;
      • plan and lead department meetings;
      • develop academic schedules;
      • monitor the effectiveness of the department; and
      • keep records for reporting purposes.

    • Education Support Professionals (Library Media Specialist and School Counselors)
    • Library Media Specialist

      Library Media Specialists assist students in finding information and using it effectively. Library Media Specialists must have knowledge of a wide variety of scholarly and public information sources and must follow trends related to publishing, computers, and the media in order to oversee the selection and organization of library materials. In school library media centers, Library Media Specialists (sometimes called information professionals) help teachers develop curricula, acquire materials for classroom instruction, and sometimes team-teach.

      The traditional concept of a library is being redefined from a place to access paper records or books to one that also houses the most advanced media, including CD-ROM, the Internet, virtual libraries, and remote access to a wide range of resources. Consequently, Library Media Specialists increasingly are combining traditional duties with tasks involving quickly changing technology.

      Most positions incorporate three aspects of library work: user services, technical services, and administrative services. User services involve working with students to help them find the information they need. The job involves analyzing students' needs to determine what information is appropriate as well as searching for, acquiring, and providing the information. User services also include an instructional role, such as showing students how to access information. For example, Library Media Specialists commonly help students navigate the Internet so they can search for relevant information efficiently. Library Media Specialists in technical services, such as acquisitions and cataloguing, acquire and prepare materials for use. Library Media Specialists in administrative services oversee the management and planning of libraries; negotiate contracts for services, materials, and equipment; supervise library employees; perform public relations and fundraising duties; prepare budgets; and dire ct activities to ensure that everything functions properly.

      In most school libraries, Library Media Specialists usually handle all aspects of the work. They read book reviews, publishers' announcements, and catalogues to keep up with current literature and other available resources, and they select and purchase materials from publishers, wholesalers, and distributors. Library Media Specialists prepare new materials by classifying them by subject matter and describe books and other library materials to make them easy to find. Library Media Specialists supervise assistants, who prepare cards, computer records, or other access tools that direct students to resources. Library Media Specialists also compile lists of books, periodicals, articles, and audiovisual materials on particular subjects; analyze collections; and recommend materials. They collect and organize books, pamphlets, manuscripts, and other materials in a specific field.

      School Counselors

      School counselors provide individuals and groups with career and educational counseling. In school settings, they work with students, including those considered to be at risk and those with special needs. They advocate for students and work with other individuals and organizations to promote the academic, career, and personal and social development of children and youths.

      Elementary school counselors observe younger children during classroom and play activities and confer with their teachers and parents to evaluate the children's strengths, problems, or special needs. They also help students develop good study habits. Elementary school counselors do less career and technical and academic counseling than do secondary school counselors.

      School counselors at all levels help students understand and deal with social, behavioral, and personal problems. These counselors emphasize preventive and developmental counseling to provide students with the life skills needed to deal with problems before they occur and to enhance the student's personal, social, and academic growth. Counselors provide special services, including alcohol and drug prevention programs and conflict resolution classes. Counselors also try to identify cases of domestic abuse and other family problems that can affect a student's development. Counselors work with students individually, with small groups, or with entire classes. They consult and collaborate with parents, teachers, school administrators, school psychologists, medical professionals, and social workers in order to develop and implement strategies to help students be successful in the education system.

      School counselors help students evaluate their abilities, interests, talents, and personality characteristics in order to develop realistic academic and career goals. Counselors use interviews, counseling sessions, tests, or other methods in evaluating and advising students. They also operate career information centers and career education programs. High school counselors advise students regarding college majors, admission requirements, entrance exams, financial aid, trade or technical schools, and apprenticeship programs. They help students develop job search skills such as resume writing and interviewing techniques. College career planning and placement counselors assist alumni or students with career development and job-hunting techniques.

  • Education Paraprofessionals - General Information about the profession as well as state certification, NCLB requirements, and how to move into a full-fledged teaching career
    "Para" means to work alongside or to work as an assistant. A paraprofessional is a trained worker who is not a full member of a given profession but who assists a professional. The definition of an education paraprofessional and the duties of these school employees vary by state and school district. Education paraprofessionals may work as media center aides, computer lab assistants, or interpreters for students with limited English skills, but the majority work as teacher assistants (also called instructional aides, teacher aides, or educational aides), providing instructional support services under the supervision of a teacher.

    • Position Description
    • Over the last forty plus years since they were introduced into our nation's schools, the roles of teacher aides have become more complex and demanding. Historically, paraprofessionals have performed clerical tasks, duplicated materials, and monitored learners in non-academic settings, under the supervision of teachers. Today, instructional aides may also:

      • Engage individual and small groups of learners in instructional activities developed by teachers,
      • Carryout behavior management and disciplinary plans developed by teachers,
      • Assist teachers with functional and other assessment activities,
      • Document and provide objective information about learner performance that enables teachers to plan and modify curriculum and learning activities for individuals,
      • Assist teachers with organizing learning activities and maintaining supportive environments, and
      • Assist teachers with involving parents or other caregivers in their child's education.

      By providing instructional and clerical support for classroom teachers, teacher assistants allow teachers more time for lesson planning and teaching. Teacher assistants tutor and assist children in learning class material using the teacher's lesson plans, providing students with individualized attention. Teacher assistants also supervise students in the cafeteria, schoolyard, and hallways or on field trips. They record grades, set up equipment, and help prepare materials for instruction.

      Some teacher assistants perform exclusively non-instructional or clerical tasks, such as monitoring nonacademic settings. Playground and lunchroom attendants are examples of such assistants. Most teacher assistants, however, perform a combination of instructional and clerical duties. They generally provide instructional reinforcement to children, under the direction and guidance of teachers. They work with students individually or in small groups — listening while students read, reviewing or reinforcing class lessons, or helping them find information for reports. At the secondary school level, teacher assistants often specialize in a certain subject, such as math or science. Teacher assistants often take charge of special projects and prepare equipment or exhibits, such as for a science demonstration. Some assistants work in computer laboratories, helping students using computers and educational software programs.

      In addition to instructing, assisting, and supervising students, teacher assistants grade tests and papers, check homework, keep health and attendance records, do typing and filing, and duplicate materials. They also stock supplies, operate audiovisual equipment, and keep classroom equipment in order.

      Many teacher assistants work extensively with special education students. As schools become more inclusive, integrating special education students into general education classrooms, teacher assistants in general education and special education classrooms increasingly assist students with disabilities. Teacher assistants attend to a disabled student's physical needs, including feeding, teaching good grooming habits, or assisting students riding the school bus. They also provide personal attention to students with other special needs, such as those from disadvantaged families, those who speak English as a second language, or those who need remedial education. Teacher assistants help assess a student's progress by observing performance and recording relevant data.

      Teacher assistants may also work with infants and toddlers who have developmental delays or other disabilities. Under the guidance of a teacher or therapist, teacher assistants may perform exercises or play games to help the child develop physically and behaviorally.

      Some teacher assistants work with young adults to help them obtain a job or to apply for community services for the disabled.

      Teacher assistants should enjoy working with children from a wide range of cultural backgrounds and be able to handle classroom situations with fairness and patience. Teacher assistants also must demonstrate initiative and a willingness to follow a teacher's directions. They must have good writing skills and be able to communicate effectively with students and teachers. Teacher assistants who speak a second language, especially Spanish, are in great demand for communicating with growing numbers of students and parents whose primary language is not English.

    • Educational Requirements
    • Educational requirements for teacher assistants vary by State or school district and range from a high school diploma to some college training, although employers increasingly prefer applicants with some college training. Teacher assistants with instructional responsibilities usually require more training than do those who do not perform teaching tasks. Many schools also require previous experience in working with children and a valid driver's license. Some schools may require the applicant to pass a background check.

      In addition, as a result of the No Child Left Behind Act, teacher assistants in Title I schools — those with a large proportion of students from low-income households — will be required to meet one of three requirements:

      1. have a minimum of 2 years of college,
      2. hold a two-year or higher degree, or
      3. pass a rigorous state or local assessment

      A number of 2-year and community colleges offer associate degree programs that prepare graduates to work as teacher assistants. However, most teacher assistants receive on-the-job training. Those who tutor and review lessons with students must have a thorough understanding of class materials and instructional methods and should be familiar with the organization and operation of a school. Teacher assistants also must know how to operate audiovisual equipment, keep records, and prepare instructional materials as well as have adequate computer skills.

    • Becoming a Highly Qualified Paraprofessional
    • In January 2002, the reauthorization of the Federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), also known as the "No Child Left Behind Act" was enacted. The No Child Left Behind Act is the most significant legislation to impact K-12 education since the previous Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. No Child Left Behind sets clear regulations for paraprofessionals and teacher aides. Teachers' aides may provide instructional support services only under the direct supervision of a teacher. In addition, the law allows teachers' aides to facilitate instruction only if they have met the following academic requirements:

      • Completed at least 2 years of study at an institution of higher education; or
      • An associate's (or higher) degree; or
      • Met a rigorous standard of quality and can demonstrate through a state or local academic assessment:
        • Knowledge of, and ability to assist in instructing, reading, writing, and mathematics; or
        • Knowledge of, and ability to assist in instructing, reading readiness, writing readiness, and mathematics readiness, as appropriate.

      The choice of test(s) to satisfy the third option is left to the discretion of states and districts, so different states and school districts will require different tests.

      The law applies to:

      • Any paraprofessional who is hired after January 8, 2002 and is to be employed in a Title I School working with student instruction, regardless of funding source.

      • Any paraprofessional hired with funds from a Title I grant in a Targeted-Assisted School who works with student instruction.

      Title I of the No Child Left Behind Act pertains to improving the academic achievement of disadvantaged students from low-income households. Title I grants are awarded to states and local education agencies to help states and school districts improve the education of disadvantaged students; turn around low-performing schools; improve teacher quality; and increase choices for parents.

      Paraprofessionals or aides do not need to meet the requirements if their role does not involve facilitating instruction. For instance, paraprofessionals who serve as hall monitors do not have to meet the same academic requirements because they are not assisting in classroom instruction. The No Child Left Behind requirements also do not apply to paraprofessionals whose primary duty is to act as a translator and those with duties consisting solely of conducting parental involvement activities.

      Existing paraprofessionals for whom the law applies have 4 years after date of enactment (January 8, 2006) to satisfy the requirements.

    • Paraprofessional State Certification
    • In order to be eligible to assume teacher aide responsibilities, paraprofessionals in some states must first earn an official "certificate" or "license" to practice. (Some states use the term "license," and others refer to them as "certificates.") The certification/licensure process guarantees that paraprofessionals meet minimum state standards for essential knowledge and skills and that each student is served by professional staff. Each state sets its own certification/licensure requirements, and the requirements vary by state.

      Other states have chosen to establish standards or guidelines for paraprofessional roles and some provide competency-based training.

    • Employment Information for Paraprofessionals
    • Median annual earnings of teacher assistants in 2002 were $18,660. The middle 50 percent earned between $14,880 and $23,600. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $12,900, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $29,050.

      Teacher assistants who work part time ordinarily do not receive benefits. Full-time workers usually receive health coverage and other benefits.

      Advancement for teacher assistants — usually in the form of higher earnings or increased responsibility — comes primarily with experience or additional education. Some school districts provide time away from the job or tuition reimbursement so that teacher assistants can earn their bachelor's degrees and pursue licensed teaching positions. In return for tuition reimbursement, assistants are often required to teach a certain length of time for the school district.

      Although school enrollments are projected to increase only slowly over the next decade, the student populations for which teacher assistants are most needed — special education students and students for whom English is not their first language — are expected to increase rapidly. Legislation that requires students with disabilities and non-native English speakers to receive an education "equal" to that of other students will generate jobs for teacher assistants to accommodate these students' special needs. Children with special needs require much personal attention, and special education teachers, as well as general education teachers with special education students, rely heavily on teacher assistants.

      Additionally, a greater focus on educational quality and accountability, as required by the No Child Left Behind Act is likely to lead to an increased demand for teacher assistants. Growing numbers of teacher assistants will be needed to help teachers prepare students for standardized testing and to provide extra assistance to students who perform poorly on standardized tests. An increasing number of after-school programs and summer programs also will create new opportunities for teacher assistants.

      Opportunities for teacher assistant jobs are expected to be best for persons with at least 2 years of formal education after high school. Persons who can speak a foreign language are in particular demand in school systems with large numbers of students whose families do not speak English at home. Demand is expected to vary by region of the country. Areas in which the population and school enrollments are expanding rapidly, such as many communities in the South and West, expect rapid growth in the demand for teacher assistants.

    • A Stepping Stone to Teacher Certification
    • While some current paraprofessionals are working to satisfy the requirements for NCLB by preparing for the skills assessment others may choose to pursue four-year degrees and become full-fledged teachers.

      Research conducted by the non-profit Recruiting New Teachers organization has identified five of the many reasons why paraprofessionals may seek to become fully-licensed teachers.

      • To enrich themselves professionally. Becoming a teacher and having their own classrooms is the next step for many paraprofessionals.
      • To give back. Many paraprofessionals want to enrich their own community through teaching and are already familiar with the local language, culture, children, and parents.
      • To share their skills. Teaching offers paraprofessionals more opportunities to share their love of learning and their expertise in subject areas.
      • To gain recognition for their experience. Many paraprofessionals have college credits or degrees and have already taken on the responsibilities of classroom teachers — and want to enjoy the same status and salary.
      • To fulfill their dreams. Many paraprofessionals become teachers to realize their long-held aspirations to teach that were postponed by finances, families, or other circumstances.

      Paraprofessionals are a key resource of future classroom teachers for many important reasons.

      • Paraprofessionals who become teachers may have high retention rates.
        One program, the Pathways to Teaching Careers Program sponsored by The Wallace Foundation, has reported great success with paraprofessionals who became teachers. Paraprofessionals and career-changers from outside the teaching profession are awarded scholarships and other support services to earn professional certification. In return, they are typically asked to commit to teaching three years in public schools. A 2001 evaluation of the program revealed that more than 80 percent of paraprofessionals who had graduated from the program were still teaching after three years.

      • Paraprofessionals may be able to help with critical shortages.
        SREB states are experiencing a shortage of teachers in certain geographic areas. Graduates of traditional teacher preparation programs tend to take jobs close to the college or university at which they studied, creating problems for other areas of the state. In addition, there are critical shortages of teachers in subject areas such as math, science, special education, and foreign languages because not enough education students graduate from preparation programs and become certified in these subjects. Furthermore, more teachers are approaching retirement than in years previous.

        The Pathways to Teaching Careers Program evaluation found that nearly 90 percent of all paraprofessionals who graduated from the Pathways program and were still teaching after three years were teaching in urban areas. A 1997 National Education Association (NEA) survey of members in educational support revealed that more than 70 percent of paraprofessionals work with special education students. Other researchers show that bilingual paraprofessionals would be good candidates for teaching in bilingual education or working as teachers of English as a Second Language.

      • Many paraprofessionals are already rooted in the community.
        The NEA survey found that three out of four paraprofessionals lived in the school district where they worked and had lived in the area an average of 25 years. Other research indicates that many paraprofessionals are rooted in the community and are often familiar with the language and culture of the students.

      • Paraprofessionals may diversify the pool of teacher candidates.
        A recent SREB report, Spinning Our Wheels: Minority Teacher Supply in SREB States, indicates that only 21 percent of teachers in SREB states are minorities, compared with 43 percent of students. A report from Recruiting New Teachers found that the majority of paraprofessionals in teacher education programs were minorities.

    • Financial Assistance for Paraprofessionals
    • One of the greatest barriers to paraprofessionals who wish to become full teachers is the financial burden associated with entering or returning to postsecondary education. But help is readily available in many forms.

      Every SREB state has established some type of program for teacher scholarships or forgivable loans. Eligibility varies by program, but participants can include high school seniors with an interest in teaching, undergraduate and graduate students, teachers with emergency certification, or certified teachers who want to pursue graduate degrees. Currently, one-third of SREB states specifically target aid for paraprofessionals who want to pursue teacher certification.