Paraprofessionals are known as the backbones of the classroom for their work supporting student learning and well-being. But they report feeling underpaid and overworked—a perennial issue that’s only getting more dire as inflation soars and schools struggle to fully staff classrooms.
Paraprofessionals, or paraeducators, are typically hourly workers who are tapped to support students with disabilities, supervise individual or small-group work, help with behavior management, and handle setting up and cleaning up classrooms. A new nationally representative survey, conducted by the EdWeek Research Center in May, shows that these staffers are, on the whole, satisfied with their jobs and feel like they’re making a difference in student learning. They don’t want to quit, but low wages may drive some out of the classroom.
“For as hard as we work, we do deserve a whole lot more,” said Becky Medina, a paraprofessional at Pascual LeDoux Academy, a preschool in Denver that’s part of the public school system there. For $15.87 an hour, she changes diapers, helps potty train, dries tears, calms children down, supervises lunch and nap time, and assists with teaching small groups. “If we didn’t love the kids as much as we do, I don’t know how many of us would stay.”
Paraprofessionals say the job has become more demanding in recent years, as school leaders rely on them to help cover staffing shortages that have been exacerbated by the pandemic. And as large shares of teachers warn in surveys that they’re likely to leave the classroom, district leaders are increasingly looking to paraprofessionals as a potential pool for future teachers. Nationally, the number of paraprofessionals has more than doubled over the past three decades—in 2018, there were about 825,000 paraeducators, compared to 3.2 million teachers.