What Is a Paraprofessional? Everything Explained

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Kayla Heisler1.16k

A paraprofessional is a person who often works alongside a fully qualified professional and sometimes works independently. Though paraprofessionals are not fully licensed themselves, they often help the professional they work alongside with specific tasks. 

If you’re interested in a career that requires specialized skills working as a paraprofessional is a great way to get a closer look at the career and gain hands-on experience. Paraprofessionals often work alongside fully qualified professionals, but they also sometimes work more independently, such as in the case of the health care paraprofessionals who provide home visits to the disabled, ill or elderly. 

What are the job duties of a paraprofessional?

Paraprofessionals perform tasks that require abundant knowledge about their field, and though the most common use of the term ‘paraprofessional’ refers to paraprofessional educators, paraprofessional careers are found in the fields of law and medicine as well as education. 

Job duties for paralegals include completing tasks that help attorney prepare for hearings, trials, and closings.  These tasks include but are not limited to analyzing and summarizing depositions, drafting various documents such as procedural motions and briefs, and preparing interrogatories. Many paralegals have their own companies and offer auxiliary legal services for law offices. Most of this requires conducting legal research and information for the attorney that pertains to the case.

For paramedics — healthcare professionals who respond to medical emergencies outside of hospital settings — their duties include performing a range of medical assistance. Some of these tasks include providing first-aid treatment, administering CPR, and providing life support care to injured patients.

Paraprofessional educators may work inside classrooms assisting teachers, assisting school librarians, or working specifically with students who have special needs. They may provide tutoring, organize instructional materials, proctor exams, or lead extracurricular activities.

What skills are needed to be a paraprofessional?

For all paraprofessionals, possessing solid teamwork skills is a must because by definition much of the work performed is alongside another person. Being able to listen well and adapt to different personalities is also important.

Paralegals must exhibit a thorough understanding of the law and excellent research skills. They should also possess exceptional written communication skills, since a large portion of their job duties depends on writing drafts. Because they must handle multiple assignments with multiple clients at the same time, multitasking and thinking ahead are also important skills for paralegals to hone.

One of the most essential skills for paramedics to have is working with others, as there are often multiple agencies on the scene of any given emergency. Paramedics must also possess the ability to remain calm in challenging situations, including keeping their cool during gruesome situations. They must also possess knowledge of how to perform various medical procedures including how to use devices such as defibrillators and tracheal intubation kits, manage fractures and burns, and administer analgesic, narcotic, and parasympathetic medications. 

Above all else, paraprofessional educators must possess gargantuan amounts of patience, as their chief duties often revolve around enforcing classroom rules and conveying information multiple times. They must also have superb communication skills, as they must convey information to and receive information from students. Paraprofessional educators must also have great organizational skills because grading papers, compiling worksheets, creating lesson plans, and tracking the behavioral and academic progress of each child call for an acute attention to detail.

How much does a paraprofessional make an hour?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), paralegals earned $24.24 per hour in 2017. A survey conducted by National Association of Legal Assistants & Paralegals (NALA) in 2015 found that the average salary for paralegals was $48,810, and the highest-earning 10% of paralegals made over $79,010 per year. Salary.com notes that as of October 31, 2018, paralegals earn between $23 and $30 per hour.

The BLS states that the median pay for paramedics in 2017 was $33,3080 per year, or $16.05 per hour. Salary.com reports that paramedics earn between $18 and $23 per hour. EMS1.com estimates that paramedics can earn between $40,000 to $70,000 per year depending on an individual’s level of training and designation.

ZipRecruiter reports that the national average for paraeducator is $20 per hour, but the hourly wage can be as high as $44 per hour or as low as $9.38. According to the BLS, in 2017 paraeducators who work in elementary and secondary schools earned an average of $28,400 per year.

What is the difference between paraprofessional and professional?

The primary difference between a paraprofessional and a professional is the amount of training that an individual receives. Professionals belong to a profession while professionals are trained to assist. For many fields where working as a paraprofessional is an option, professionals hold licensure while the paraprofessional lacks licensure or proper training. For example, a paralegal does not necessarily need to be licensed to assist a law office, but a lawyer does need to pass the bar exam in order to practice law as a professional. There are also certain acts that only licensed attorneys are able to perform including establishing an attorney-client relationship, signing legal documents on behalf of a client, and appearing in court on behalf of another person. Paraprofessionals often also have the option to work part time while professional careers typically require full time status.

How to Become a Paraprofessional

In many fields, paraprofessionals can begin their careers without a degree from a four-year college, but earning a professional certificate or an associate’s degree is typically preferable.

Most who wish to become paralegals complete a paralegal certification program that awards a certificate, degree, or advanced diploma. Some paralegals complete training prior to beginning their careers. Many people take Continuing Legal Education (CLE) courses, but some complete their educations while performing work as an assistant at a law firm.

Paramedic training is considered vocational, but many colleges offer an associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree option. Though requirements vary, paramedics must fulfill a minimum of 1,500 classroom hours and a minimum of 500 clinical hours. Most programs also require paramedics to maintain their certification status by taking tests that demonstrate proficiency every two years.

The requirements that must be met in order to become a paraprofessional educator vary greatly from state to state and from school to school. The minimum requirement is typically a high school diploma or G.E.D, but some places require in-classroom experience assisting. Some states also ask that paraprofessional educators pass state or local exams.Y ou can find more information about requisite regulations upheld to become a paraprofessional educator by reviewing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

Where to find paraprofessional jobs

Medical establishments, law offices, and schools are all great places to begin a search for paraprofessional jobs. Libraries can also be a source of paraprofessional jobs. Working as a paraprofessional can be an awesome way to find out if investing time into getting certified in a certain field is a decision you want to make. 

If there’s a specific profession that you’re interested in, search to see if there are opportunities to assist in a paraprofessional capacity. Online job databases such as Indeed, Monster, and LinkedIn list thousands of listings nationwide for various paraprofessional jobs. Your next career move could be a search away!


Kayla Heisler is an essayist and Pushcart Prize-nominated poet. She is a contributing writer for Color My Bubble. Her work appears in New York's Best Emerging Poets anthology.