Testing a New Career – Teaching – Become a Paraprofessional Substitute

Working as an Educational Paraprofessional Substitute is an excellent part-time job when you’re going to school and need flexible work hours. It’s especially good for people who are considering becoming an educator, but haven’t completely decided, or haven’t found funding for a teaching certificate or masters degree.

The job entails working in K-12 classroom settings assisting certificated teachers. There’s a need for substitutes because contracted Instructional Assistants and Paraprofessionals (Para-pros) take days off, but districts have to ensure that they maintain staff-to-student ratios. To ensure they have substitutes when and where they need them, school districts across the country maintain pools of qualified people who can (and will) work on-call to provide classroom support.

How to become a Paraprofessional Substitute.

The first step in becoming a Paraprofessional Substitute is locating the job post on a school district’s website. Since districts refer to this position with different titles, search for “paraprofessional substitute”, “substitute paraprofessional”, “parapro substitute”, “para-pro substitute”, or “substitute teaching assistant”. Most districts keep posts for substitutes up year-round because they have difficulty finding substitutes, so if you don’t find a job post with one of the suggested search terms, call the district’s human resources department and ask.

Because funding for Paraprofessional positions is often supplemented by Title I funds from the Federal government, Paraprofessionals must demonstrate a minimum level of competency in the subjects being taught. Some states require that Paraprofessionals pass a Parapro certification test, other states waive testing if the candidate has a certain number of college credits.

Because there is currently a shortage of paraprofessionals in many districts, call your local district to confirm exactly what they’ll require and what might be waived in some circumstances.

Once your application has been accepted, all districts will require candidates to be fingerprinted and to pass a police background check.

When the background check comes back, most, but not all, school districts offer an employee orientation for new classroom staff. If your new employer offers an orientation, attend, even if you have to skip an assignment to do so. The orientation is often when school districts provide blood borne pathogen training and hand out personal protective equipment such as gloves.

The orientation will also be an opportunity to learn how the district’s substitute placement system works. Most districts rely on Aesop(tm) or Subfinder(tm) to provide online access for substitutes to find and select individual jobs. These systems also include robo-calls in the morning and evening to notify subs of jobs that are available the following day. Once you’ve proven yourself, you’ll also receive calls from school secretaries who can place you directly in a substitute position at their school.

Is being a Paraprofessional Substitute a full-time job?

No, most school districts limit the hours a paraprofessional works to align closely with the school day and on full-day assignments you will arrive a half an hour before school starts, provide services only when students are in class, debrief with the certificated teacher, and leave for the day. However, in an effort to reduce costs, some school districts primarily offer half-day, or shorter assignments. One district I work for routinely offers 1.5 hr. assignments, which works for people who just want something to get them out of the house, but really isn’t enough to help with ongoing living expenses.

So, depending on the district, during the school year you could work a maximum of 35 and a minimum of 1.5 hours per week. There are, of course, no available substitute days during summer and school holidays, making it easy to plan vacations.

Paraprofessional Substitute pay is on the low end, but as a substitute you’ll earn slightly more per hour than full-time Paraprofessionals. This is balanced by a flexible work schedule and a general lack of medical benefits.

How to Get More Paraprofessional Substitute Assignments

The best way to assure you are offered full-day assignments is to be fully engaged when you show up in every school every day.

When you’re first starting out, teachers and office staff will assume you’re just an adult in the classroom so staffing levels are maintained. Most won’t offer you anything to do unless you ask. Ask, then be willing to do whatever’s offered. This can run the gamut from leading small groups to sharpening pencils, sorting books, cleaning tables, wiping runny noses, handing out art supplies, and covering recess duty.

In general education elementary classrooms, Paras subbing for Instructional Assistants often lead small groups in reading, writing, and math, and sometimes monitor computer areas. When teachers are instructing the entire class, pull up a chair and sit toward the back of the group and listen to the lesson. You’ll likely be helping to reinforce it in the individual or group work that follows.

When you work in a new building or with a new teacher at some point during the day it’s OK to casually mention special skills you bring. If you’re a parent and have gone through the Love and Logic parenting courses or know American Sign Language or Spanish, mention that. If you’re an undergraduate student in early childhood education, elementary education, or secondary education, and are working in a general education classroom, ask how your current coursework might tie into the lesson plan for the day.

Be Willing to Accept Parapro Assignments in Special Needs Programs

Districts often do not identify the type of classroom assignment you’re being offered, however, there a few clues. First, ask someone in HR to explain the different job titles. In the districts where I work, “Instructional Assistant” means the person you’ll be subbing for works full-time in a general education classroom where most students are typically functioning, but there may be 28 or more students so the classroom is in overload and there’s funding for a second adult in the room to support the certificated teacher.

In that same district, “Special Education Assistant” means the assignment is in a Special Needs Program and most of these programs are serving three subsets of special needs: medically fragile; Autism and developmental delay; and emotional, behavior disorder (EBD). Sometimes the assignment notice will identify whether you’ll be working one-to-one with a specific student or if you’ll be floating among different general education (gen ed) classrooms supporting multiple students at different times during the day.

If you’re working in an Emotional, Behavior (EBD) classroom, let the teacher know if you have or have not attended Crisis Prevention & Intervention training. In these classrooms, knowing how to avoid triggering students is a valuable asset and knowing how to react if a student is triggered is critical to everyone safely helping the student return to rationality. If you’re an undergraduate or graduate Psychology student, or are considering changing your major to Psychology, consider mentioning your current status, then plan on learning as much during that one day as you will in an entire quarter, but tread lightly with implementing anything you’re learning in your psychology classes.

It may take a while to figure out which programs are at which schools and which types of programs you work well in. You’ll know if you’re a good fit from the teacher’s perspective if they ask for your contact information so they can request you at a later date.

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