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Paraeducators are integral to student achievement

Paraeducators are integral to student achievement

By Mary Anne Nielsen, Director
Diagnostic Center, Northern California, CDE

Paraeducators are the fastest growing group of educators. In 1990, approximately 100,000 paraeducators were working in our public schools nationwide. Today, more than 3 million are employed and working with our kids.

Faced with educational reforms, growing numbers of English language learners and students with special needs, crowded classrooms, and coupled with an ongoing teacher shortage, paraeducators continue to work their magic with our students. They are our link to the community, role models for our students, job coaches, academic and/or technology tutors, disciplinarians, surrogate parents, playground supervisors, translators and mediators. Although they have many roles and their job titles vary, their primary role is to increase independence and decrease dependence.

Paraeducators are key members of the teaching team; the backbone, heart and soul of the school. They have chosen a most challenging and yet, most rewarding career. Paraeducators instruct and inspire, and everyday, millions of parents entrust their children to them. These valuable members of the education community make a difference in the lives of the children—they are teachers!

Everyone can think back on their school careers and recall the teacher who made a difference. Why was he or she a favorite? Was it the extra smile or her gentleness? Was it the patient explanation of a math equation, or the mind-opening social studies lesson? Did she set high expectations and offer congratulations when they were met?

Each of us has been touched by one or more great teachers. My challenge to all paraeducators is to be that great teacher and work hard to make a positive difference everyday. Instill in students a love of learning, a passion for being a better friend and citizen, and celebrate their success.

As a former paraeducator, teacher, principal, district office administrator and superintendent, I applaud all the work that paraeducators do. They are undeniably today’s heroes and heroines.