Why Paraprofessionals Make Great Teachers

I served as an Elementary School Principal in the Acton Public School for 16 years. Prior to that I was a coordinator of Language Arts & Reading in the Haverhill Public Schools for 8 years. And for 6 years I served as an instructor/administrator at Northern Essex Community College, as the Coordinator of the Educational Assistant Program, preparing paraprofessionals to work in elementary classrooms in the Merrimack Valley. I understand the tremendous value of paraprofessionals and why they make great teachers.

Educated and supported paraprofessionals:
• have substantive prior experience in classrooms;
• understand the day to day life of a teachers;
• have a familiarity with the curriculum and how to implement it;
• learn the art and practice of collaboration;
• have the opportunity to practice working with individual students, small groups of students, and often the whole class;
• gain the understanding of varying teaching strategies and methodologies;
• have the opportunity to join in any professional development offered by the district or school;
• became an integral part of the school and its culture.

In my experience as a Principal, the paraprofessionals in my school were invited to join the staff in faculty meetings and, if they chose and were interested, served on a range of faculty committees (e.g. searching for a new writing or math program). Further, if their other commitments allowed, they joined together with the other paraprofessionals in the school on monthly basis to learn more about topics that they chose to better understand. (For example, they sought to better understand the range of difficulties experienced by students with speech and language issues. I invited the Speech and Language Specialist to several of our meetings to explain the issues along with some of the strategies that could be used to address students’ needs. It also opened up lines of communication with the school’s specialist, regarding the most effective way to work with specific students.)

As a Principal, I came to know these paraprofessionals in many different arenas. I knew how they performed as they worked in classrooms, at meetings, in the Faculty Lounge, during difficult times, and during celebrations. I saw them day to day. They became an integral part of our teaching and professional community. I witnessed their commitment to their jobs, the students, the staff, and the school. During my tenure as Principal, I hired a good number of those very paraprofessionals as they became certified, to work as teachers. They had a very good understanding of our school; they worked hard; they contributed as much as their lives allowed them. The transition from paraprofessional to teacher was smooth and effective; they were already part of the school and understood the school’s values, goals, culture, and learning community.

Lisette Kaplowitz, retired educator and long-term Board Member of the Massachusetts Foundation for Teaching and Learning Dr. Kaplowitz’s career in education spans from paraprofessional, to classroom teacher, school principal, faculty at Northern Essex Community College and Lesley University, and doctoral student mentor at Boston College. She received her Master’s and Doctoral degrees from Boston University.