What’s In a Name?

The National Resource Center changed its name from “Paraprofessionals” to “Paraeducators” in 1989. Wondering why?

By Anna Lou Pickett, First Director and Founder, National Resource Center for Paraeducators

During the latter half of the 20th century several events took place that led to dramatic changes in our nation’s schools. To address critical shortages in the ranks of licensed teachers that began in the 1950s, a few schools began to employ “teacher aides” to assist teachers with non instructional tasks. This new group of school employees performed clerical tasks, monitored playgrounds, lunchrooms, and hallways, prepared bulletin boards, and carried out other activities designed to enable teachers to meet the educational needs of all students. At the same time, parents and other advocates joined forces to gain access to education and other community based services for children and youth with developmental disabilities as alternatives to state operated institutions. Parent operated schools employed teacher aides to enable teachers to provide personalized services for students who could benefit from additional support. The mid 1960s ushered in Title I, Head Start, and other compensatory programs designed for students from diverse language and cultural heritages, or educationally disadvantaged backgrounds. These new programs required “teacher aides” to perform more complex responsibilities in addition to their non-instructional tasks.

Over time, school districts adopted additional titles to more accurately describe teacher aid roles, responsibilities, and contributions. In the 1960s, several educators suggested the term “Para”, a Greek word meaning “alongside of”. The term “paraprofessional” recognized the functions that were being performed by “teacher aides”. This does not mean that districts stopped referring to this group of employees as “teacher aides”. Indeed there are numerous titles including: instructional, educational, or teacher assistant, occupational, physical therapy, speech-language aide, health care aide, job coach/transition trainer, intervener for learners who are deaf-blind. These are just a few of the titles for school personnel who work alongside teachers and other professional practitioners.

In 1989, Anna Lou Pickett, the founder and first director of the National Resource Center for Paraprofessionals suggested that the term “PARAEDUCATOR” be used to more accurately describe the nature of today’s “teacher aides”. Paraeducators support and assist teachers and other practitioners in various disciplines, just as their counterparts in law and medicine are designated as paralegals and paramedics.

We at the NRCP agree. Using a common term will enable us to more effectively achieve our goals. A common language will help us to develop strategies to gain the attention of policy makers, administrators, personnel developers, and other stakeholders with responsibilities for ensuring all educators including PARAEDUCATORS perform their assigned tasks to strengthen the performance of education teams. TASKS TO STRENGTHEN THE PERFORMANCE OF EDUCATION TEAMS.

13 thoughts on “What’s In a Name?”

  1. I think the term paraeducator is a term that best describes what we do today more than we did in the past. We are much more engaged in the daily classroom routines and working with children than in the past when it was correcting papers and putting bulletin boards.

  2. I also agree that the term Paraeducator best describes all that we do for the students and teachers. As they say, “It takes a village to help a child”. I

  3. I think “Paraeducator” is very accurate. I work alongside special education students and what I do is indeed educating. 🙂 A great article and I think we’ve all come a long way in education, doing what is best for the students.

  4. I think the name change is good as we promote the education by assisting the students and reinforcing their learning. Also as a Paraprofessional it breaks the barrier of some teachers perception of just a helper. We are part of the team that can share and enhance the child’s learning.

  5. In the future, I hope the “paraeducator” moniker will mature into yet a more appropriate name for what we do, because saying “along side the educator” suggests that we, ourselves, are not also educators.

    In order to even become a paraeducator, in most school districts, it is already a requirement to have either an associate’s degree or a minimum of its equivalent hours. In additional, throughout the school year, we undergo mandated additional training classes. In them, we learn the latest pedagogical methods for everything from classroom management to better instructional techniques.

    I cannot speak for everyone in my profession, but for me, there are many days when I do more educating than some of the lead teachers. If there is no lead teacher for the day and a sub is not available, I become the lead teacher for that class, with no additional compensation. In order to successfully assist a struggling student with an assignment, I have to be educated on that subject, as well.

    My point is, “paraeducator” barely begins to touch the scope of what we do. But the change of name is a start.

  6. In positions that I have had since the 1990’s Special Ed. classrooms for EBD student population require experience in modified teaching methods, behavior data collection and excel recording, facilitating small group activities, deescalation and containment training. In addition to knowledge of legal IEP goals. I feel like there is such a wide range of job responsibilities within the label of Para Educator that there should be tiers and/or different job titles depending on responsibilities and education/ experience to fulfill requirements.

    • You articulated this so well, and I share your opinion wholeheartedly. It would be great to be able to gain additional knowledge/expertise in particular areas of individual interest. Of course, there are things that should be common knowledge, but it should not be a “one size fits all” type of position, for us or for our students.

  7. ParaEducator encompasses more of what we do in the classroom. More recently, my district has embraced the RBT (Registered Behavior Technician) certification, enabling us to more effectively help with classroom management and specific students’ behavior, thereby freeing our teachers to do the most important thing they do: TEACH.


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