The USC Rossier School of Education offers an online Master of Arts in Teaching with a specialization in special education. Candidates have the opportunity to earn their Education Specialist Credential in Mild/Moderate Disabilities or gifted education with a Certificate in Gifted Education. Request Information.
Capella University offers online special education programs at both the master’s and PhD level. These programs are designed to augment your ability to teach and advocate for the growing number of students who need special education services. Request information to learn more about Capella’s special education degree options.
Purdue University's online MSEd in Special Education includes the option to add a focus in intense intervention for students with severe autism and intellectual/physical disabilities. Request information to learn more.
The online MSEd in Special Education from Saint Joseph's University prepares teachers to identify learning disabilities in K-12 students and implement effective strategies for teaching. Request information to learn more.
The primary role of an instructional assistant (IA) is to assist the teacher in all facets of daily classroom management. This can vary between teachers, schools and districts, but most IAs can expect to divide their time between working with students, providing behavioral support and completing administrative tasks assigned by the teacher.
As a type of paraeducator, an IA is not a teacher, which means that he or she is not responsible for the overall learning that will take place. Ultimately, it is the teacher’s responsibility to ensure that students learn, make progress on their individualized education program (IEP) goals and are safe and productive in school. Still, the IA is an integral part of the educational team because he or she provides the support a teacher needs to maximize instructional time.
A Day in the Life
Most instructional assistants work on a six-hour schedule. Though routines vary, the following is a good example of the day-to-day schedule of a classroom paraeducator:
- First Hour: Meet students at the bus and walk them to the classroom. Assist in classroom management such as putting away coats, getting students seated and taking roll. Complete any administrative tasks the teacher assigns.
- Hour two: Conduct a reading group with three to five students using a lesson designed and provided by the teacher. Supervise during independent reading and learning time.
- Hour three: Conduct a math group with three to five students using a lesson designed and provided by the teacher. Supervise independent learning and provide one-on-one support as necessary.
- Hour four: Assist in supervisory responsibilities outside the classroom during lunchtime and recess. Monitor students while they interact with peers during non-structured time.
- Hour five: Provide additional support during other academic lessons. This may include providing one-on-one assistance, behavior management and small-group instruction. Some IAs may also spend this time outside of the special education classroom, supporting students in general education classes.
- Hour six: Assist the teacher with end-of-day activities. Walk students to the bus, and supervise them during unstructured after-school time. Return to the classroom for staff meetings, or to complete any additional administrative tasks the teacher assigns.
General Licensing Requirements
Federal legislation via the No Child Left Behind Act states that paraprofessionals must have completed at least two years of higher education, and be able to “meet a rigorous standard of quality.” This essentially means passing a reading and math skills test.
Still, the requirements for actually obtaining a job vary from state to state and from district to district. It is always best to contact your local district and your state’s department of education for specific licensing information. For more specific information, visit the teacher certification section of Special Education Guide.
Areas of Specialization
Although paraprofessionals do not have the formal pathways to specializations that teachers do, they may find that they thrive in particular classroom environments and wish to focus on certain types of jobs. For example, some IAs find that they prefer to work with just one student and may apply to be one-on-one assistants for medically fragile students. Others may prefer to learn advanced academic subjects and provide tutoring to high school students with mild learning disabilities. Many paraeducators also find professional satisfaction in providing social and behavioral support to students with autism spectrum disorders.
Fortunately, many districts and special education local plan areas (SELPAs) provide workshops and training to help employees add to their skill sets. Once employed, paraprofessionals can choose to attend these seminars.
Previous and Next Steps: Instructional Assistants on the Career Path
Instructional assistants come from diverse backgrounds. Some are former secretaries, administrative assistants and restaurant workers. Others have experience working in day cares or preschools. Though their backgrounds are different, they all subscribe to the same guiding principles: a love for children and a desire to provide a world-class education to every student they meet.
Many go on to apply for other positions within school districts. For example, some become job and vocational advisors. Others advance into positions in school district administrative offices. Many also eventually become teachers. After gaining valuable classroom experience, they complete their degrees and begin their teaching careers with real-world knowledge. Teachers who start as IAs are often highly successful educators who are leaders in their departments.
National Organizations of Interest
The following organizations serve the interests and needs of instructional assistants: