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Paraprofessionals: The Untapped Classroom Resource

It is unfortunate that Paraprofessionals are among the first to be excessed once cash-strapped schools have to balance their budgets. But if we look closely at the  paraprofessional, we will see that they are an untapped classroom resource. These dedicated professionals eventually take their place in all facets of education. The paraprofessionals should be applauded and supported along their long journey. Therefore, the United Federation of Teachers honors paraprofessionals during the Annual Teacher Union Day celebration: These Paraprofessionals have moved to another UFT title. Today they are now secretaries, teachers, guidance counselors and social workers. Adelante!

The article "Focus On An Untapped Classroom Resource: Helping Paraprofessionals Become Teachers "Christine L. Smith, SREB, April 2003)... highlights the important role of paraprofessionals. Let's visit this point.

"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.
Southern Regional Education Board 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. "

Furthermore, the UFT Career Ladder Program has been instrumental in launching the educational journeys for thousands of paraprofessionals. Recognizing the merits of the work that professionals do in classrooms throughout New York City, one should advocate to pay UFTers as professionals and not attempt to diminish their value with unfair attacks. Lest we forget: "The richest nation on earth has never allocated enough of its abundant resources to build sufficient schools, to compensate adequately its teachers, and surround them with the prestige their work justifies," said Martin Luther King Jr. in 1964

We need teachers unions that advocate for the rights of children and those who serve them. And in a "society requiring even higher standards of knowledge," we need the UFT even more.

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